Friday, March 26, 2010

More on New Jersey Adoption Reform bill

Our previous post, We support NJ bill giving adoptees original birth certificates, is drawing heated controversy, as the comments indicate. Some birth/first mothers object to the release of any information the social worker collected at the time of relinquishment of their babies, feeling that this is an infringement of their privacy, and may reflect half-truths or even complete falsifications put down by the social worker. Some we know were sympathetic; others were judgmental and harsh, only interested in getting the baby for her clients, the waiting prospective adoptive parents. 

It is important to note that New Jersey's non-disclosure veto is far less restrictive than in some other states (such as Delaware) where non-disclosure equals no original birth certificate (OBC). Instead, the adopted person whose birth mother uses the one-year window to file a disclosure veto will still be given his original birth certificate--with his or her name, time and place of birth. Only the birth mother's and/or father's (if so listed) names will be blanked out. So, no matter what, the adoptee gets his first name! His first last name! The whole name he was given at birth! As for the issue of disclosure of agency data about the birth/first mother, Pam Hasegawa, one of the bill's framers and an adoptee, notes:
"The OBC will state whether the mother has given birth to other children prior to this birth; hopefully, agency non-IDing info will provide the same facts. From one perspective, that's the first mother's private information (how many other children she had when this one was born). From another perspective (mine), if I have half-siblings, we're related to each other and they're part of my family and I'm a part of theirs. If any one disagreeing with this example would like to exclude that particular fact from non-IDing info to be provided, please consider the implications of any sons or daughters committing incest with a half-sibling.

"While the non-IDing info varies according to the social worker compiling and sharing it with requesting adoptees (as it has been since 1977), there's not going to be wholesale (or ANY) sharing of the records themselves. No birth family members' medical records will be released, although I do hope adoptees will be able to get their OWN hospital records as neonates as other Americans covered by the Freedom Of Information Act are able to. Understand, there is a major difference between medical records and "family-medical history." Maybe changing the word "medical" to "health" would be the more correct term. 

If release of medical records is verboten because of HIPPA privacy laws, then what else is there to draw from than information shared by the birth parent with the social worker before the child's birth and/or adoption? It certainly is better for an individual as well as the prospective adoptive parents to know if the child may carry a genetic predisposition for a disease that doesn't usually show up until adolescence or later, such as schizophrenia or breast cancer. If a first parent has either physical or mental illness in her or his family health history, that information should be shared with prospective adoptive parents, as well as the adopted individual."
While the adoptee (whose mother does not file a veto) may also receive the non-identifying files that are the cause of the commotion about this bill from some first mother's perspectives, he also has the name of the birth mother which he may use to find her, if he so chooses. Information in that file may help him find his mother, as if it says that she had brothers, whose last names presumably have not been changed. 

Furthermore, if the birth mother does not file for non-disclosure during the one-year window she has to do so, we assume that many of these adoptees will, in fact, search for their first mothers and fathers in hope of a reunion. So while they may be given files collected by a judgmental social worker, they should be able to learn first hand from their mothers whether the information is correct or misleading or just plain inaccurate. Those whose first mothers did request non-disclosure would not have that option.

While intellectually we can understand the hesitation and objection about releasing this possibly misleading or mischaracterization of the birth mother, on reflection both Jane and I came to the conclusion that if the bill can only be passed if it contains some sort of "veto" power granted to the birth mother, and releases this agency information, we will go along with it, as it will give the vast majority of adoptees in New Jersey who seek their birth records their unredacted, long-form birth certificates. And that is worth celebrating.

Additionally, the non-identifying information from the agency, along with the original name of the adopted person that is on the birth certificate, will possibly allow those individuals who are good at sleuthing more clues to locate their original parents, if they so choose. Please note also that this information has been given out in New Jersey since 1977. We have been and are adamantly opposed to the state offering and continuing birth mother anonymity from their own children. It invests in the her a right we believe is cruel, unjust, and violates all laws of human nature and decency. It strips the person to be adopted much of their dignity, and the right to be equal and free with the rest of humankind.

In conclusion, Pam asks for input in making the bill the best it can be: "All of us who care about the NJ bill being as good as it can be need to work together as the bill moves forward closer to June," she says. "There is a strong committed core group of people in New Jersey who have been working on the legislation since 1980. If you have a good idea, or your state has a model template for non-identifying information, please send it to NJCare.staff@gmail.com by April 15. 

To which we add: Amen.
--lorraine

19 comments :

  1. I don't know how Pam does it... I love her :)

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  2. My understanding of the NJ bill is that the medical history will be an extensive check-off sheet. My problem with it is the coercion and blackmail exerted against women (mostly) to get it. Even if a parent wants to express yes-I-want-contact in writing, they are forced to submit the medical form with it. There's something really wrong--even for those who want to file a veto.

    And for pete's sake, call the 'contact veto" what it really is: a disclosure veto.

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  3. kitta here:

    The assumption is that any medical condition in a family member must be genetic...and so therefore, it must be disclosed.

    but, this is erroneous thinking. Medical conditions can have many causes....for example, I had an uncle with a heart condition and I found out decades later that he had had rheumatic fever as a child, which is an infection. He actually had a very strong heart, but for many years our family thought he had a genetically weak heart.

    And mothers who are speaking with social workers about their family histories are not necessarily aware of the actual causes or details of the conditions in their relatives.

    Some agencies ask mothers about their own histories and a form is filled out with consent. This is fine, and should be released to the adoptive parents and the adopted person.

    But, trying to "guess" at what conditions might exist in a family based on conversations between a mother and a social worker is just about useless. Neither the mother nor the social worker are in the position to diagnose, third-hand. It is nothing but hear-say.

    If information must be released the only way to do it is with a heavy disclaimer and limit on liability, saying something like" There may be a history of heart disease, with unknown causes at the time this information was gathered." or, "mother has reported possible mental illness in a relative with no additional information."

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  4. Karen K's comment below makes perfect sense. One would think this would just be a given but if it needs to be spelled out, why not? Sounds like a pretty simple solution to me.


    "disclaimer and limit on liability, saying something like" There may be a history of heart disease, with unknown causes at the time this information was gathered." or, "mother has reported possible mental illness in a relative with no additional information."

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  5. A bad bill is a bad bill. That it is not as bad as some like Delaware does not make it good or acceptable, and who we love or do not has nothing to do with it.

    I am not one of the mothers that objects to adoptees being able to obtain medical or other information from their agency, as they have been doing all along, but this should not be tied to OBC access or to any disclosure veto stipulation. They are separate issues.

    The point about incest and long form birth certificates listing numbers of live births is useless for the majority of adoptees, as most were firstborn, and the adoptee's OBC tells nothing about subsequent children born to their mother.

    Adoptees should be able to get their own OBC on request like the rest of us. Period, no exceptions, no other records, no vetoes or special conditions. Anything other than that should not be called adoptee rights legislation.

    None of the concessions made in NJ have appeased or mollified our usual opponents one bit. They are fighting this bill just as strongly as they would fight a clean bill.

    The way to fix this bill is to start over with a bill that is clean and simple, but I do not think that those supporting it want to hear that. Any other "fixes" would just be more "lipstick on a pig."

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  6. I had a three hour meeting tody with Larry Newman of NJCare about this bill.

    You can read ll about it at:

    http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/2010/03/nj-legislation-may-have-wide-spread.html

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  7. Mirah, was anything said about eh border babies NJCare has thrown under the bus?

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  8. ""The point about incest and long form birth certificates listing numbers of live births is useless for the majority of adoptees, as most were firstborn, and the adoptee's OBC tells nothing about subsequent children born to their mother.""

    Good point! How will a redacted mother's name on the OBC benefit the adoptee and where the adoptee is the firstborn to the mother? I guess the major benefit then would be in the passport category? Since I have read that some adoptees have had problems in this area with their ABC. Though this is not the case for every adoptee. I am reunited and my daughter has used her ABC for everything and she travels out of the country quite often and has never had a problem getting her original passport nor renewing it and has had her driver's license since the age of 16, again garnered with her ABC.

    I fully support OBC Access for all adoptees, just like non-adopted people have the right to... without all the mumbo-jumbo attached.

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  9. kitta here:

    "but this should not be tied to OBC access or to any disclosure veto stipulation. They are separate issues:

    I agree with this. Adoption bills are full of everything that someone wants to get passed. So people make deals. Before long it is a patchwork of unrelated ideas,many of them unruly and unwanted, and they still don't pass,since more isnt better,

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  10. Right, it is a patchwork bill, but since it's going to give 99 percent of the adopted people who ask for them their birth certificates--geeze I can not understand all this carping about this and that to please the ninnies in the legislature who don't want to vote for any kind of bill that hurts a few adoptive parents--and that's what this is about. Lawyers are really trying to protect the sanctity of the adoptive family and screw the kids because we're all so happy, right? I don't live in NJ but if I did I'd be working to get this damn bill passed and I think those of you against this all ought to really consider what you are doing. I suppose most of you would have voted against health care--any kind of health care bill--because it did not have the public option? If this bill can get passed, I'm all for it.
    --adopted in Florida

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  11. Kitta wrote:Adoption bills are full of everything that someone wants to get passed. So people make deals. Before long it is a patchwork of unrelated ideas,many of them unruly and unwanted, and they still don't pass,since more isnt better,"

    Very well put Kitta and I agree.An ugly, misshapen patchwork indeed! I agree with Mandy on this too. Opposing this bill has made some strange bedfellows, but there are so many reasons to oppose it that is not surprising:-)

    Kasey, stop confusing issues. No, I would not have voted against better health care in any form, because too many people like one of my sons cannot afford any health insurance as it now stands.The two issues are not comparable.

    Where did you get "99% would get their birth certificates"? It is not a good idea to throw around spurious statistics unless you can back them up.

    Mirah, good work for standing up to three hours of snake oil sales!

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  12. Anonski says,

    " but since it's going to give 99 percent of the adopted people who ask for them their birth certificates."
    Oh yeah?
    Like I said before, it didn't work out that way in Ontario:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Access_to_Adoption
    _Records_Act

    Another thing. Once the mother's name is removed from a birth certificate, it is no longer a birth certificate.
    No-one should have to accept a travesty in place of the Real Thing.
    It is evidence of how vetoes can set up a chain of systemic distortion

    "but this should not be tied to OBC access or to any disclosure veto stipulation. They are separate issues:"
    ITA.

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  13. Does anybody hear know what happened in Oregon?

    Or is that too much to ask?

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  14. kitta here:

    to Kasey. I have been following the progress of the NJ legislation since the 1990s.

    One of the bill-writers told me several years ago that it was a legislator who placed the medical history requirements in the bill. I believe the lawamker was probably representing either the adoption agencies or adoption attorneys.

    I did not think that the medical history issues belonged in that bill.

    The NJ Catholic Conference also came out with a statement against access to OBCs several years ago, but stated that "adopted people have a right to complete family medical history."

    The conflicts within and between those two positions have been debated here and elsewhere. I support the right to OBC, but 'family medical history" is a vague term that does not exist as a 'right' anywhere in law. Nor is it possible to ever acquire a 'complete family medical history."

    It is also a violation of HIPAA laws to require medical information from relatives and to release it without their consent. This is especially true when the "medical information" was not submitted by the individual mother in the first place and is most likely erroneous.

    However, it is possible to write laws that can legally develop a practice of gathering medical information, with informed consent from the mother, and with limits on liability for all parties should a medical problem arise later on.

    This is significant, due to the numbers of 'wrongful adoption lawsuits" that have been filed against adoption agencies by adoptive parents who have claimed they were 'denied' medical information in the natural family's past history. S799 has an immunity to lawsuits clause in it, which absolves agencies/attorneys/ and other adoption facilitators who do adoption placements from liability for the results of any information released.


    And, yes, I would vote for health care.

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  15. But where does that leave the 1% (or whatever % it is), which includes victims of state-facilitated anonymous abandonment? They are now a stigmatized class forever. Now that border babies = safe haven = new sealed records you'll see many more "legal abandonments" from perfectly identifiable parents.

    Would you say that only women who have the permission of their husbands can vote and who cares about the few whose husband won't let them?

    I understand that Gov. Christie says he'll veto the bill if it passes.

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  16. As a British adopted person who received her original birth certificate in 1978, I shake my head at the bizarre fears of American lawmakers. Perhaps it's not that their fears are bizarre; perhaps it's simply that access to original birth records will disrupt the $5 billion American for-profit adoption industry.

    Whatever the reason -- irrational fears, outdated bias, misguided concern, or old-fashioned greed -- I view the denial of original birth records to adopted adults as a fundamental human rights violation and an example of how far behind the rest of the industrial world America lags. The way we treat adopted people is a national disgrace.
    (Nicole Burton, author, Swimming Up the Sun: A Memoir of Adoption)

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  17. Anonimation says,

    Nicole said "perhaps it's simply that access to original birth records will disrupt the $5 billion American for-profit adoption industry. "

    ITA that's a huge part of it, with the fervent support of the right wing of the Christian Evangelical Church which is heavily invested in the business of salvation and rebirth via adoption. Osolomama has a good post about this: "Rescued from Buddhism: A brief history of the Christian adoption movement".

    My son got his OBC in the UK in 1985, ten years after records were opened. We got back in touch after 38 years, and the sky did not fall for me or his father. In fact quite the opposite. The sun shone more brightly and clouds parted.
    The sky doesn't appear to have fallen for found mothers in the UK either.

    In the UK the OBC contains:
    * the original name of the adopted person
    * the name of the birth mother and sometimes the birth father if he was either married to the birth mother at the time of birth or accompanied the birth mother when the child’s birth was registered
    * the address of the birth parent(s)
    * the place and address of the child’s birth
    * in Scotland, the birth certificate also shows the time of birth.

    EVERYBODY in the UK gets theirs.

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  18. Here is the link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillView.asp
    If you go to: Introduced - 12 pages PDF Format HTML Format
    You will see on page 4, Sec 2 thru page 9, Sec. 10 are all the new for this year additions that have to do with access.
    Sec. 2: starting at line 14 thru 20...
    "a birth parent of a person adopted prior to the date of enactment of this act may submit to the State Registrar a written, notarized request for nondisclosure or may make such a request to the State Registrar in person. The request for nondisclosure shall prohibit the State Registrar from providing the birth parent's name and home address, as recorded on the adopted person's birth certificate, "
    Please note the word "request"

    Sec. 2: start at line 33 thru 36 deals with the family history form requesting medical, cultural and social history regarding the birth parent...
    "Failure of a birth parent to complete the form and return it within 60 days, upon requesting nondisclosure, shall nullify the birth parent's request for nondisclosure."
    My opinion? Very good.

    Sec. 3:
    26 c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
    27 b. If the birth parent of the adopted person has submitted a
    28 request for nondisclosure pursuant to section 2 of P.L. ,
    29 c. (C. )(pending before the Legislature as this bill), the State
    30 Registrar shall delete the name and home address of the birth parent
    31 from the uncertified, long form copy of the original certificate of
    32 birth, and provide a copy of the family history form submitted by
    33 the birth parent with the certificate of birth.


    Sec. 7:
    45 b. An employee, agent or officer of the Department of Health
    46 and Senior Services who is authorized by the Commissioner of
    47 Health and Senior Services to disclose information relating to the
    48 certification of birth pursuant to this act, shall not be liable for:
    (1) disclosing information based on 1 a written, notarized request
    2 submitted in accordance with this act; and
    3 (2) any error or inaccuracy in the information that is disclosed
    4 after receipt of a written, notarized request submitted in accordance with this act, and any consequence of that error or inaccuracy.

    Okay... this let's the state off the hook for any BS the social workers or "others" may have felt was their right to say...
    Sec. 8 requires the state to document the "number of uncertified, long-form copies of original birth certificates that were provided to adopted persons, the direct descendants of deceased adopted persons, and the adoptive parents or guardians of minor adopted persons; b. the number of requests for nondisclosure submitted by birth parents; c. the number of requests submitted by birth parents, through
    the document of contact preference, for direct contact, contact by an intermediary, and no contact, respectively; and d. the number of family history forms submitted by birth parents."


    "This act shall take effect immediately, except that sections 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 shall take effect one year after the date of enactment"... so one year after this bill is passed NJ adoptees will be able to get their OBCs (if BPs have not filed the non-disclosure request or have not filed their family medical info form).


    Whatever else that may be distasteful in this bill was done/included before now - we can not go back in time. Whatever was done or should have been done is water under the bridge. We (ALL) need to learn from what has worked and not worked - looking backwards is a history lesson that, if we don't learn from it we will be doomed to repeat.
    Cully

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  19. kitta here:

    "we can not go back in time. Whatever was done or should have been done is water under the bridge"

    Well...sort of...our legal system is based on precedent, so we have to be looking back, all of the time.

    Cully, you are correct in noting that the bill has written in a couple of disclaimers of liability for the state as well as for the adoption facilitators. This is so they will not be sued over the information that is released or because of the "results."

    but, there are no immunities for the mothers whose bodies are scrutinized which has been a concern for some of us.

    The additional non-id medical history in secion 5a and 10a need additional consents for release and disclaimers.

    I wish that bills for OBC would not include these medical provisions.

    I am a mother whose father is an attorney whose opinion it is that we are indeed, facing legal liability when our medical histories are required.

    How liable we are depends on the law and how we answer the medical questions.

    My father read the bill being considered in NY right now, S5269, and his opinion was that the language stating that adopted people had a 'civil right to a complete and accurate medical history' implied that mothers had a legal obligation to supply a complete family medical history. he told me that we could be held criminally negligent if our children became ill due to our inability to supply same.

    He told me that any law like that should place limits on our liability, such as written statements that say 'there may be a history of mental illness" or " a possibility of genetic transmission of breast cancer might exist in the mother's family." No names should be used, or specific relatives should be named.

    The mother would sign this, saying that she knows that this may be incomplete and possibly not accurate. Then the adoptive parents would also sign it and acknowedge it, as well...knowing it might be inaccurate and incomplete.

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