The Ethics of Relinquishment and Adoption: How Can We Make it Better?
American Adoption CongressConferenceMarch 2010
How I came to this topic:Adoption Meeting November 2009JunoSenator Gordon Smith’s son’s suicide 2004HaitiAdoptionsAdoption Meeting with Prospective parentsMarie Osmond’s Son’s Death
We continue to be afraid as a culture to disrupt what we identify as a “normal” form offamily known as adoptionWe have changedwhatthe meaning of “normal family is” so we hesitate to question others about adoption because we aren't sure ourselvesWe struggle to feel connected in the families we are a part of and so we look for the “feel good” solution and getangryat those who challengeitWe want tofeel goodabout our decision to place and/or our active involvement in the act of placement .
Your Caucasian neighbors adopt a Chinese baby girl and change her name to“Jennifer.”You are an adoptee and feel uncomfortable about thisbutcannot bring yourself to say “Congratulations” while the other neighbors laud over how cute she is.You are a birthmother sitting in an adoption agency office and wonder if with a little support maybe you could keep your baby, but the caseworker is talking on andon,with a smile on her face, about the terrific adoptive parents they have waiting for a baby “just like yours.” You feel an obligation to follow through.
ABC News is doing another “great adoption story” on 20/20 about a nice Iowa couple adopting their fifth child from Haiti. They are seen holding the little boy who looks shocked and sad in their arms at the airport. The parents are smiling. The next day at work one of your coworkers talks about this story, but you say nothing.Your friend’s 17 y/o daughter had her first child 9 months ago, and now they are raising him at home. Shejust told you she is pregnant again.The parents both work fulltimewhile caringfor thebaby, buttheir daughter goes out at night with friends.You feel ashamed of your judgmental feelings.
A young couple endedup getting married afterthe birthmotherhad already placed their babyinan open adoption.She thought he wanted that too. Theygrieve for the loss oftheir daughterevery time theygo fora visit but feel like the legal deal was made and its too late to change it.A birthmother placedhersonin a supposed open adoption years ago, only the lawyer “lost” the agreement and the parents moved away.Now, throughthe insistence ofher new lawyer, the adoptive parentshavesentcurrent photosbutwith the threat they may sueherif she tries to contact them.
These examples exacerbate the problems generated in a system of care mired in secrecy and unregulated ethics.Theseare all situations where adoption practice today generates different ethical dilemmas as well as opportunities for education and change.Sometimes these stories make us angry and bring up renewed pain that hasn’t been resolved.Other times they call us to action or to say something that surprises others around us.
What Can We Do?
Who is here today?Whether a professional, birthmother, adoptee or adoptive parent, we can all use the same ethical guidelines to help us design a pathway for change.We are the people, WE who are sitting here today, who know what needs to be done, why it should be done, and how it should be done.And we have a moral and ethical obligation to do the work of change- whether it be small or large in scope.
First things first
To quote Dr. Ron Nydam- it is not just about adoption, it is aboutrelinquishment and adoption.Thisis important to remember. If you get caught up in the concept of adoption only you will get caught in the business of placing children and bypass what theydo not want tobe talked about and that is the relinquishment- the separating of mother and child-the severing of ties-the loss of family oforigin-the unnatural severing of bonds-the incredible loss.
How Do We Do This?
We can begin to interrupt the conversation.We can dare to educate on the spot, not later.We can speak without shame, speak with courage, with bravery, with acknowledgement of what we know and what we have yet to learn.We shape all that we say and do within the framework of ethical intent and truth seekingAnd we do this work knowing we are not alone
For the purpose of this talk, I am going to identify some of the basic concepts of ethics and then tie those to the policy and practice of relinquishment and adoption.I have complied my sources for the ethical portion from a compilation of Codes of Ethics for professional therapists.
Meaning of Ethics
Ethics pertains to the beliefs we hold about what constitutes correct or moral conductEthical conduct is behavior that results from a combination of knowledge and a clear set of guiding principles underlying a code of ethics.In relinquishment and adoption, ethical conduct has been widely misconstrued and interpreted under the guise of a socially constructed view of adoption as “normal family” formation without consideration the lifelong impact of relinquishment.
Principle Ethicsfocus on moral issues and resolves ethical dilemma's within a particular set of guidelines that frame behavior and thinking. Relinquishment/Adoption example might be when a birthmother changes her mind after giving birth and decides not to place. The adoption agency would use a set of guidelines to support her decision. The adoptive family may need to use principle ethics to support this difficult change.
Virtue Ethicsfocus more on the personal character traits and non-obligatory ideas to which the person or professional aspires than on specific ethical delimmas. An example of this in relinquishment and adoption might be where an adoptive parent knowsthat allowingmore contact with the birthmother is best for their child even though it is difficult. Or another might be a reunited birthmother not wanting to tell the name of the birthfather but knowing it is important that she does- more virtuous.
Are typically motivated to do what is right for the right reasons. In adoption, this would be to support the birthparent’s right to parent first, including in the post relinquishment period.Possess compassion for all members of the adoption triadAllow enough time for adoption decision makingHave a regard for all parties to the relinquishment and adoption with sensitivity for their sufferingPossess self awareness with the capacity for self observation – knowing when they are biased!
Community Standards: which are what professionals mayactuallydo in a particular community which in adoption we know can vary from Oregon to say Utah or TexasEthical Standards: are what a professionalshoulddo, which again may vary in adoption based on who is doing the adoption and where it is being done.Lawsdefine what are minimum standards society willtolerateand are enforced by the government.
Core Virtues in Ethical Decision Making
Prudence: skill and judgment in the use of resources-the ability to govern with disciplineIntegrity: firm adherence to a code of ethics-incorruptibilityAutonomy: self-directing freedom –the right of self governanceFidelity: fidelity to obligations regarded as natural and fundamentalVeracity: a devotion to the truth
Steps in Ethical Decision Making( Feminist Model)
Recognize the problemDevelop solutionsChoose a solutionReview the process and solutioncollaborativelyImplement and evaluate the solutionContinue reflection on the process
Steps in Ethical Decision Making( Social Constructionist Model)
Identify the problemReview relevant ethics codesKnow applicable laws and regulationsObtain consultationConsider possible courses of actionConsider possible consequences of various decisionsDecide best course of action
In the work of improving and changing the policy and practice of relinquishment and adoption, we in adoption reform all bring our own experience and story to the table.That makes our own self awareness our personal responsibility to be aware of and to be committed to not having it interfere with the work at hand. For a lay person, their personal experience can enhance their work and be the driving force. For a professional person it can both enhance or impede the work so it must be managed carefully.
Interrupt the conversationGuide your work with principles, ethics, and truthsStay informedProceed with courageBe self aware and self accountable