Adoption in the Age of The Internet

This story was on public radio yesterday AM.   The story was spurred by this report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.   It’s about how modern technology is transforming adoption practice.   And it is not in a particularly good way.

I know that there has been some criticism of adoption agencies here recently, particularly in the context of the recent Utah adoption case.   Much of that is doubtless warranted, particularly in the Achane case.

But while there are undoubtedly some bad or unethical adoption agencies, there are also many that are quite careful thoughtful.    What I mean is that there are agencies (and individuals) involved in adoption who take the responsibilities quite seriously–they do real and meaningful counselling and screening.  This means, of course, that they take time to do their work.

The internet offers faster (and very likely cheaper) ways to find a child or to place a child.   But faster and cheaper are not the same as better.    There is ample reason for concern here, but it’s not easy to see what to do about it.  It puts me in mind of the ways in which people turn to DIY insemination or surrogacy.    It’s not hard to imagine the host of problems that can result, not least of them the risk of commodification.  (And I say that as someone whom I’m sure many of you think is indifferent to commodification.)

The report also documents a second set of changes wrought by modern technology.   Finding birth relatives is easier and easier.   The idea of a closed adoption–one that remains shrouded in secrecy–is increasingly fanciful.

Again there are broad ramifications here, perhaps particularly during a time of transition.  (What I mean is, once all adoptions are open adoptions there may be less to note about this.)   And of course, the ramifications of technology in this regard go beyond adoption, as websites like Donor Sibling Registry attest.

There’s nothing really surprising in the observation that technology is changing the way we live–you all know that.   But it is important to consider these specific changes.  Particularly the first set of changes–the ones featured in the NPR report–are troubling.   I just don’t quite see what to do about it at the moment.

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11 responses to “Adoption in the Age of The Internet

  1. You jarred me a smidge with that line about the risk of genetic parents commodifying their young in the area of ART and adoption. There have been some senarios that you find treat minors like property but it has been hard for me to wrap my head around how those situations were materially different from any other senario where the premise is for people to create and abandon/relinquish their young as a service to provide children for those that want them. I know under there somewhere you do really care about not treating children like tradeable property. Your just trying to find a way to make a solid permanent place of parental respect for the partners of lesbian mothers because they work so hard and love the kids they are raising just as much as anyone loves their own flesh and blood maybe more because there is so much more to prove. It’s a tough task and there might be some way to get there that gives the genetically unrelated partner the parental level respect they are due without obtaining it through a process that gives biological parents a twisted legal authority to draft private agreements for possession and parental title and presence and absence. I believe you care. I believe a lot of genetically unrelated people care more about the children they are raising clearly than the parents do – after all one did the selling and one did the buying. What can intended parents really think of the estranged parents that gave up the chance to know and raise these wonderful little people that they value more than anything else in the world though their blood does not course through their veins. I bet they often marvel at how they’d never give up the chance to raise such wonderful kids if they were blessed enough to be able to create them with their own bodies the way that donors can or the way that careless teenagers can. They pay lip service to the amazing gift that donors give that parents give when they relinquish children for adoption but having desired the child so much having gone through heaven and hell to get to that point where they are raising a kid they must think to themselves no way would they pass up the chance at to witness their own children grow and learn. It’s sad these are clearly generally people deeply committed to the task of raising children certainly more than the parents they took over for and yet how they obtain the children they raise really matters. It should matter to them because if they go about it in a disrespectful way it will undermine all the effort they put into raising the child lovingly. Anyone who wants to be a parent and is looking to do that by raising another person’s offspring should think long and hard about whether they want the kid they raise to think that they wanted the bio parent to go away. It is pivotal in whether or not telling the truth makes a kid comfortable with an adoption. Not if they fought in court to keep the birth family from taking the kid back, not if they flew to an orphanage in China and did not question the canned story about being found in a park with a note pinned to a blanket in a bassinet, not if you paid an anonymous person to create a child and abandon them when they are born. There is that chance they will resent the rearing party no matter how much effort and love they give. Why risk it? Why not come by the genetically unrelated child in a way that is purely loving?

    It really shocked me you wrote that about com-modification and I wonder what you mean by it. I hope you find a way to get what you want and I hope there is a better way to go about it than current practice. I’d love for you to stumble on an idea that changes the world for the better.

    • Beautiful comment marilyn

    • There’s this core disagreement we keep coming back to about when a person is or becomes a parent in some meaningful sense. I think we agree that generally you cannot pay people who are parents (whatever that means) to give up their children. That’s commodification. The thing we disagree about is when that is a fair description of what is happening.

      Perhaps even more specifically, I do think a lot about how the law assigns legal parentage and I think the assignment of legal parentage is a critical decision. Part of the reason I’m uneasy with intent-based parentage (which is generally favored in ART arragnments) is because of concerns about commodification. I prefer a performance based standard for assignment of legal parentage. You prefer a genetic based standard for assignment of legal parentage.

      A performance based ideal of legal parentage does allow all sorts of family forms. It also (to my mind) allows the law to recognize reality–the way people are really living. But to your mind I’m reassigning legal parenthood from it’s rightful holders–the genetically related people. We just see these things quite differently, I think.

      • Julie back up. We went over this before; a person does not have to be a parent to be guilty of selling a child, they just have to be in a position of control at the moment. They don’t even have to get control in an ethical manner and their control does not require any legal recognition. You can kidnap a child and sell or give or rent or have them toil away in a sweat shop for you or have them work in a brothel or whatever. You don’t need to be a legally recognized parent to be guilty of objectifying a minor. You don’t need to be a legal parent to abuse your position of authority in relationship to them for your own personal gain or someone else’s.

        Bodily autonomy dictates that people don’t have to produce offspring for others to take and raise. It is, and you said so yourself, the child that others are after, not the gamete to put on a shelf. She who gives up the gamete must also give over the child when born. Whether she delivers that child or not there will be an agreement, written or spoken, that the child will be theirs to raise, not hers and it is an agreement that could only be struck with a person in power over the disposition of the resulting child. Yes the woman who delivers the child will automatically be named mother, but not if the donor pulls back and refuses to give over the gamete because the resulting child will be her offspring not theirs.

        So you can stand on the technicality that they are not parents therefore they are not really giving up their parental rights, not really selling parental rights because the law never recognized them as parents in the first place – but you know full well that people don’t need parental rights in order to be in the position to profit from providing someone with a child to raise. And I would assert that it is possible to treat a human being as property and an object of trade without any specific exchange of money, goods or services. I really do see that it is possible to treat a child as property if you give the right to raise that child as an act of altruism.

        The dehumanizing and degrading act occurs once the person is born and the terms of earlier agreements go into play. It is the behavior of the adults after the child is born that treat the donor’s offspring as property that people are entitled to or not entitled to.

        I advocate for a defining principal that minors are nobody’s property and that nobody is entitled to raise them but rather they are entitled to be cared for and not treated as property. Those with authority over them those charged with their care have an obligation to fulfill that duty and not be compensated to abandon their post by those who would like to take over. A human child should change hands only if some tragic circumstance necessitates it. There need not be facilitators out there helping people find children to adopt. It should work the other way around where facilitators are out there looking for people kind enough to help raise orphaned or abused or abandoned children. Do you see the difference in how one process respects the minor as being human and not an object to be shopped for while the other commodifies them? It does not matter at what point the person in control enters the picture. If they have the power to move the child like a pawn on a chess board they have an obligation to behave in a manner that is dignified and respectful of the person as a person not property.

        • I only have a moment here, but wanted to offer at least a partial response. Yes–you only need to have control to sell a child. Being a legal parent is one way (but not the only way) of exerting/having control. Does the gamete provider have any control (once the gamete is given up)? I think the general answer is “no.” So you’ve got a sentence that says “She who gives up the gamete must also give over the child when born” and I think that is wrong as a matter of law. The gamete donor does not need to give over the child when born. She has given all she can possible give when she gives over the gamete and has no further interest to yield. I don’t know if this is really a different way of saying what we know we disagree about, but maybe it is.

          • Now you are playing games. You already said that people don’t want the gamete for the gamete they want the gamete because it gets them a the donors offspring to raise. you already acknowledged. Nobody will take the gamete if they don’t agree to not raise their offspring. The agreements remember those? The ones that an entire boutique industry of lawyers writing gamete donor agreements that make sure gamete donors give up parental righrts? Heck I was not even going THERE with you. I left the parental rights and word parent behind for your benefit. I say they are people with the capability of making new people that other people want to take and keep….by reproducing or allowing others to reproduce their cells they are commodifying their young

          • I am a person who can reproduce and make offspring. My offspring are mine because I am the biological source of their existence. My offspring are differentiated from someone else’s offspring because they are the source of their offspring I’m the source of mine.

            If I view my current and future offspring as individuals unto themselves to whom I owe a duty of care and support, I would not view them as an object to be passed around to serve me by earning me money or to serve others by fullfilling their desire to raise children. I would simply raise them to meet my obligation to them or I simply would not create them or allow them to develop into people in the first place.

            If I make my offspring for other people if I allow people to commission the existence of my offspring so that they can have them like they would a piece of art or a house or whatever then I am objectifying my offspring. Commissioning is contracting and contracts have objects and if my offspring is the object of the contract it my offspring is the thing I am being commissioned for whether it is by full force reproduction and pregnacy or simple cell reproduction that they then develop makes no difference I have allowed my offspring to be objectified and commissioned for. I would suck. I would owe my offspring an apology, not apologize for their existence but rather apologize for having allowed them to be taken by the people who commissioned them when I should have raised them myself and cooperated in that effort with whomever their other genetic parent is. But to allow an adoption or step parent adoption to go through would also be bad just because I would have made my offspring to serve a purpose of providing a child to a childless person who wants to be a parent but can’t. They could settle for step parent and be who they are and still have a relationship that does not cost my offspring legal recognition as a member of their genetic family. Yeah its so clear but you don’t like what it means.

  2. Why does it cost people money to adopt a child? Children cost a lot of money to raise. If parents decide not to raise their children they become wards of the state and the state pays people to take care of them – Foster Parents are essentially employed by the state to take care of children whose parents are unable to do so safely. The alternative is the old fashioned orphan asylum which ran partially on donation but also billed the City or State for its services. So like why would it cost a person a damn dime to take a child off the state’s hands? I mean why should it cost one red cent? They are doing the parents of the child and the state a favor by agreeing to take care of someone else’s child! It’s not their job to pay to raise someone else’s child and yet they are willing to do this for the sheer joy of hearing a child’s footsteps running down the hall on Sunday morning. I mean is it not kind of fishy that any money at all is paid by adoptive parents? Considering the enormous financial burden they are taking on? Indeed relieving the state of a financial burden to care for an abandoned, abused, neglected or at the very least relinquished child? Who are these agencies and why are they making money hooking people up with children to adopt? People that want to raise these kids are blinded by what they feel is a wholesome desire to raise a child they are not even thinking that it is totally illogical for them to have to pay in order to provide an orphaned child with a good home. The system needs to be overhauled and revisit its original intention to protect minors from human trafficking. Genetic parents are abusing their first tier authority by taking money or goods or services from people who are willing to raise their child once born they are gaining something they need in exchange for the promise of allowing people to take and raise their child. It looks like they are treating their children as property because they are and then that makes these totally nice people into child buyers they won’t be able to shake that sht. Its going to stick with them. We need to buckle down and get ethical.

    When the really good adoption agencies refer to people who want to adopt as their clients and say that they loose business to other agencies that have a competitive advantage something is wrong. Those are the words of companies that sell products. Companies have customers. Companies compete for business. These agencies are not suppose to help people get kids to raise they are suppose to find people to raise needy children. It should not matter which agency finds more homes for children there should be no money to be made at that. This is wrong.

    • I think it is fair to ask why it costs money to adopt. Part of the answer lies in the fact that any decent adoption system must have a variety of procedural protections. There need to be home studies for the prospective parents, for example. There need to be counselling sessions for the person or people giving up parental rights. There may need to be someone to independently consider what is best for the child (this depends on the case). You might need a lawyer to ensure that the adoption is done properly so that it won’t unravel and some later date. All of these are serious jobs and people get paid to do them. Hours add up and it costs money. And I don’t think these costs are diminished by technology.

      There’s another area of costs–I think economists might call them search costs. If I want to adopt a child I have to find a child available for adoption. particularly if I want a newborn child, that means I have to find a pregnant woman who does not wish to raise the child she will be giving birth to. The state doesn’t keep stables of them or lists of them. So maybe I advertise–set up a website? Or maybe I go to someone who does collect lists of names. From the other side, if a woman who is pregnant wants to place her child for adoption, she has to find someone to place it with. She may want some control over who gets to raise the child. People may have various ideas about levels of contact. Somehow matches have to be made, terms agreed to, etc. Here too there are expenses. But these expenses doubtless are changed (and I want to say reduced, but I’m not sure) by technology. Where once these searches might be purely local or via networks of phone connected people, now they are on-line.

      The other thing this last part introduces is some notion that people (on both sides of the equation) are shopping. That’s a disturbing notion, I know, and it walks us back to commodification. But as long as people have choices, I’m not sure how to avoid it.

      • See I do think it can be avoided. If we say (and I know you don’t) that people are responsible for their own offspring and then failing that that the responsibility falls to the state to then secure the child a suitable alternative through guardianship or adoption – which by the way is the truth all adoptions do have to be court approved otherwise it is not a real adoption – then we have the State as the fall back always. That is a heavy burden financially if you think of every child that parents are not taking care of is the responsibility of the state then I think our tax dollars are well spent to pay the administrative fees for background checking etc to find good homes for the kids heck its cheaper than foster care for 18 years. So it is to the state’s benefit to pay the cost of finding homes for children whose parents are not raising them.

        See its finding people to raise the kids not finding kids for people to raise. One commodifies the child and the other does not it is subtle but it is huge. So what about shopping? I say we discourage it. If a pregnant woman comes to the state wanting to relinquish to a particular couple I say the investigation needs to be tripple intense to ensure that there has been and will be no financial assistance to her their bank accounts ought to be monitored and we should be sure that she did not make the baby on purpose to abandon so the wife could do a step parent adoption. If and when those situations are uncovered the parents should be allowed to still give their child up for adoption but not to the chosen couple.

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