Information and Access: An American Civil Right Denied

Like me, Susan Perry is a grandmother, with children and grandchildren whom she adores. She also has many family members to whom she is not biologically related.

Susan Perry is an adoptee. I am an adoptive parent.

Unlike Susan, I have access to my birth certificate and my medical history, without even needing to think twice about it. I would take it for granted, surely, except that I know people whose lives have been held hostage, who have faced grave illnesses that could have been treated differently, who have been told to just accept the way things are–they are denied access to their own birth certificates.

And we both agree that adopted people have a basic, civil, human right to know who they are. Access to original birth certificates remains an absurd issue in this country. We saw some progress in Washington state recently, though it’s not what it could or should have been. This week, legislation made its way through the Pennsylvania legislature. Information about Pennsylvania is available here. These are glimmers of progress, some good news in an arena that has been too often met with opposition from legislators, lawyers, adoption agencies, and adoption lobbyists.

Susan writes this from her heart: I wish every adoption attorney, agency official, legislator and religious group that opposes adoptee rights would read this post and then tell me to my face why they think it is their right to deny me my own original birth certificate and make it difficult for me to ascertain the basic truths about my own life. How can they not see how discriminatory it is to treat an entire minority group differently by law than we treat everyone else — especially now that we have hard data to show that adoptee access bills without restrictions work best for all concerned parties?

I wish the same thing, as a grandmother, a mom, a daughter.

Read the rest of Susan’s powerful post here.

This is not an adoptee-only fight, though they should be the leaders. I urge my fellow adoptive parents, my fellow grandparents, all grandparents of adopted children, all siblings of adoptees, all partners of adoptees to join me in urging access to original birth certificates without restriction. The world hasn’t ended in Kansas or Alaska, where adoption records have never been sealed. In Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine, adult adoptees can access their records. In these 6 states, adopted adults have the right to access or not access their own records.

May Susan Perry and others be allowed to access a basic human right–to know who they are. May we all recognize that we can do better than secrecy and shame. May grandmothers (and others) not suffer through physical and other illnesses because they are denied basic truths about their own lives.

Update: I will write more specifically about this, but for those looking for ways to help improve access to original birth certificates, here’s some quick information. Essentially, this is a state issue, so you can look into what your individual state’s policy is.  Check my post “OBC Outrage: Adoptive Parents?” as well. Good sources of information are the American Adoption Congress,  Adoptee Rights Coalition, and Bastard Nation.

Also, DNA technology is an option for some adoptees to fill in their medical history. Certainly it’s not a substitute for firsthand knowledge, and it’s absurd (again) that an adoptee should have to pay for this information. Nonetheless, services such as 23AndMe, Family Tree DNA, and others are available. More information is available here.

10 thoughts on “Information and Access: An American Civil Right Denied

  1. Pingback: Susan Perry, RIP: How Lucky We Were to Have You | Light of Day Stories

  2. Thank for the shout-out, Maureen, and for all you do to bring attention to this issue. I am fighting advanced melanoma now, a disease I first encountered under a toenail, of all places, 16 years ago. I have since learned that this disease indeed does run in my original family. Would doctors have been more vigilant 16 years ago, instead of assuming this toenail growth was a skin tag? I think so. And besides the medical aspect, what gives anyone the right to withhold my own personal history from me when I become an adult? As Maureen writes, this issue is indeed absurd, and we need many more people to challenge the adoption facilitators and legislators who continue to oppose adult adoptee access bills.

    • Susan, I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. I, along with many others, send you strong wishes for healing and comfort. I will continue to speak out about this issue of access to one’s own identity. I admire so much your strength, compassion, and amazing good heart, Susan. We grandmothers have to stick together. With you on the journey.

  3. I agree with this, too.
    I have always been horrified at the practice of keeping essential info about health records being withheld from adoptees. It flies in the face of reason, & endangers not only them, but their children as well.
    Thank you for reminding us once again about this very important issue.

  4. I agree 100%! What can I do to help?

    I’m neither adopted nor an adoptee but agree this is a civil rights issue — and my heart breaks for a friend (who happens to be adopted) whose health is negatively impacted by the lack of access. He’s of what appears to be mixed race, he doesn’t know and is LEGALLY BANNED from his OBC and has been diagnosed with a form of leukemia in which a bonemarrow transplant would be very likely to save his life. Minority donors are underrepresented in registries and odds of finding a may go way up if one looks within their ethnic group(s). Catch 22 that may well kill a wonderful, smart 33 yr old father simply for being adopted!

  5. I agree completely! There are many things that my husband would like his adopted out daughter to know. Like the fact that glaucoma and diabetes run in his family. Along with dyslexia and colorblindness. Some members of his family have had heart disease, early heart attacks and more. Also, alcoholism runs in the family. His daughter could make health and lifestyle choices based on info she could get from him.

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