A Thanksgiving Family

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday weekend.   This is just a quick post between errands and eating. 

Yesterday my local paper (the Seattle Times) featured this story as a part of their holiday fundraising series.   It seems to me it is a tribute to the resilience of children and the capacity of people to love and care for children.   Sharon Cormier is an admirable parent–to the child she is biologically related to, to the children she has chosen to embrace through adoption, and to the children she raised and is raising as a foster parent.   Her’s is in many ways an extraordinary family and reminder to us, I think, that families come in all sorts of shapes and forms.     Somehow the law has to be flexible enough to recognize and support that diversity.


18 responses to “A Thanksgiving Family

  1. Does that this blog favors honest birth certificates?

    • I suppose in general I do, but the whole topic of birth certificates is complciated. If you look under the tag ‘birth certificate” you’ll find some discussion.

      A great deal depends on what a birth certificate is supposed to certify.

      To the extent that birth certificates are used to state who a child’s current legal parents are (and it is frequently used for this purpose) than to be accurate or honest, it needs to list the current legal parents (who might well be adoptive parents.)

      I know that many people assume it is a historical record of who gave birth. (It actually is rarely used in this way.) If it were that then it ought to say who gave birth–in which case one woman’s name would appear on it.

      Other people might like it to list the people a child is genetically related to. (I don’t actually think it is ever legally used in this way, although of course often the genetically related people are also legal parents.) It’s certainly possible to decide this is what birth certificates are for.

      In each case, I’d say that birth certificates should be accurate, which I assume is what you mean by honest. But depending on what they were used for, you’d might well find different things on equally honest birth certificates.

  2. Good story – thank you.

  3. birth certificate- literally, a certificate of birth. So to be honest, it must state who the child was born to. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    Legal parents? There’s another certificate for that. It’s called a certificate of adoption.

    • I can easily imagine a world where these things might be true, and I can see its virtues. But as it it happens, current US reality is not as simple as all that.

      First off, the initial birth certificate (which is sometimes called a certificate of live birth) generally lists two parents (and most typically one male, one female) even though only one actually gave birth. Often it is the woman who gave birth and her husband (who may or may not be genetically related to the child, as the NYT magazine article makes clear. Sometimes it is the woman who gave birth and someone who has signed a voluntary affidavit of paternity (also discussed earlier in the blog.) In some states, in cases of surrogacy, it may not be the woman who gives birth but rather the intended parents. I’m not saying you cannot quarrel with this, I just want to be clear about current practice.

      Second, there are many situations (crossing the US/Canada border comes to mind) where the authorities are not happy to have a certificate of adoption. They want a birth certificate, showing that the people transporting the child out of the US are the legal parents of the child or that, if they are not, they have notarized authorization from the legal parent(s). A similar requirement may be found if you try to register a child for school or even a sport. This means adoptive parents need a birth certificate with their names on it if they are to be able to function as parents.

      I have no idea why the order of adoption (I don’t know if there is a thing called a certificate of adoption) is not acceptable. And I can easily imagine the argument that it should be. Perhaps this would be very good indeed. I just want to be clear about how things actually work.

  4. If the natural/genetic parents of either adoptees or the donor-conceived (or vendor-conceived!) are re-written or written anew, then there remain the problem of inadvertant incest.

  5. Inadvertant incest, I meant, will happen if birth certificates are written anew or re-written.

    • Not necessarily. If people understand the way birth certificates are used AND IF there is some other record of the genetic origins, then that other record would presumably prevent the accidental incest problem. However, I think as things are now people do not understand what birth certificates do (and do not) record AND there is often no other record of the genetic information. So perhaps as things stand now there is a real risk.

  6. the “other record of genetic origins” will not stop people falling in love spontaneously hotting up and going to bed together, it’s the cases where bed is unplanned and passionate where incest will happen.

    • If that’s what you’re worried about, then why would birth certificates work any better? They question is whether ensuring that people know about their genetic relationship has some value. It likely does. But as you suggest, it won’t be foolproof.

  7. Birth certificates have always been honest about who the mother was, because there was rarely any doubt. They have not always been honest about who the father was, not because people regarded it as less important, but because it could not technically be established with any certainty. This has changed, but we have not yet accommodated ourselves to this fact.

    For people who believe that biological parenthood is secondary to social parenthood, there ought not to be any problem with an honest birth certificate listening the biological parents. This could be established through a DNA test of the wife’s husband/partner or giving the name of the sperm donor. After all, if biology doesn’t matter there can’t be anything embarrassing about it.

    This does however not seem to be the case, and I have often wondered about this contradiction.

    We live in age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to conceal the truth, and the sooner we learn to live with it, the better.

    • I agree with you about telling the truth.

      I feel like I’m repeating myself, but at least one very major reason adoptive parents need a birth certificate with their names on it is because birth certificates seem to be what various agencies want to see. If we could change that, then perhaps people would have to have a new birth certificate. Of course people vary on this, but I would not leap to the conclusion (as you have) that most people want it for reasons having to do with embarassment.

  8. honest birth certificates may well challenge the status quo for adoption agencies or make IVF harder for the adults or even bring it to its end which is what you are against (or you would not keep on with your lecturing about it) – but so what?

  9. At the moment, according to state law most everywhere, a birth certificate does not purport to show who the genetically related people are. I know this is not what you want, but it is the current law. Given this law, insisting on honest birth certificates as things stand won’t get you where you want to g0.

    I think what you want to do is to change things so that a birth certificate is meant to show genetic parentage. Then an honest birth certificate would contain the information you want. But unless you want to abolish adoption, we would also need to institute a system where adoptive parents have some document that allows them to register their kids for school.

    I’m not suggesting this is a bad idea. It’s just there’s a few more steps involved than just asking for “honest birth certificates.”

  10. Julie,
    Perhaps, as a lawyer with interest in this subject, you might be in a position to help us here in the US (we REALLY NEED a lawyer to advocate for us – the donor/vendor/surrogate conceived and adoptees!). I wrote this post to my proudparenting blog: (http://www.proudparenting.com/node/3378) on the birth certificate issue:

    “Adding to Damian’s commentary on Donor Conceived Perspectives (http://donorconceived.blogspot.com/2009/08/birth-certificates.html) which I shared here on PP:( http://www.proudparenting.com/node/3377)

    While Damian is from Australia and I am from the United States, legalities (laws of the land) aside, I believe the purpose of “birth certificates” is really a global human dignity/social issue that we all share regardless of our country of origin.

    Of course each country handles this differently. I heard that in the UK there are both long (noting legal parents names, name of child/individual, gender, date/place of birth and registration) and a short BC (only noting name, gender, date/place of birth and registration). And in Canada, birth certificates only show details of an individual’s birth without any parenting details.

    I certainly don’t claim to be very knowledgeable on this topic but this is what I’d like to see happen (here in the US – and everywhere):

    I think there should be both a long birth certificate noting both a person’s genetic/biological origins (there by respecting an individuals right to genetic/biological identity) and parenting details AND a separate short “parenting certificate” stating only the legal parents, which would be used for every day and legal purposes.

    From what I understand, in the US, BC’s are handled on a state by state basis (I’m not sure about this and really question if that even makes sense)…If that is the case, I would like to BC’s done in a consistent manner – federally regulated/mandated but I think that this currently falls under family law which is state regulated.

    I know the adoption community has much to add/suggest…Any adoption advocates/lawyers out there reading who might like to help shed light on this????”

    • Birth certificates are issued by the states (rather than by the federal government) and are issued in forms and under conditions set by the states. I think there’s little chance that we’ll see federal uniformity any time soon. There’s such a long tradition of state sovereignty on this question.

      (Just as an aside, there’s also a long tradition of states rather than the federal government defining marriage. For example, some states have common-law marriage while most do not. Historically the federal government has recognized marriages that are recognized by the relevant state. So the federal government recognizes common-law marriages from states where common law marriage is legal. The whole brouhaha over access to marriage for lesbians and gay men lead to the US Congress creating an exception to this rule–DOMA–which says for federal purposes, marriage can only be between a man and a woman. There’s a serious debate about whether the Congress has power to enact such a law.)

      Anyway, all that aside, I think the idea of a long certificate and a short certificate is worth serious consideration. It seems like it might address many of the problems that have been raised here. But realistically, I think you’d have to move in that direction state by state.

  11. I see…but don’t the authorities know what you are saying already?

  12. Abolish adoption? There is a lobby called just that! But anyway it’s not such a big deal for adoptive parents to get/keep the original birth certificates, like adult Korean adoptees are after.

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