Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Taste of US Family Life, A Tale of International Heartache

We've been talking about Chinese adoptions lately, and the new guidelines China has put in place. Today, the New York Times has a heartbreaking story about international adoptions from other countries, with a focus on the Ukraine and Russia. As strict as the Chinese adoptions are, they at least are not this manipulative*! The story is just a nightmare of things done wrong: bribes paid to directors, organizers, and agencies, older children being sent on "hosting tours" to potential adoption parents so that the parents can, and I quote, have a "trial run" at the children, only for everyone to become attached - and then the prospective parents find out that the child is not available for adoption, or is being fought over by multiple families, or that if they do want to adopt, they must come to the originating country and be shown a portfolio of available children which may or may not include the child that "toured" with them.

And this isn't even taking into account the child, who is often told upfront by the agencies that they are auditioning for their "forever family"! Many children "test" well, and so are repeatedly sent to different families, yet never actually made available for adopting - the hope appears to be that they will lure the families in to adopt other children.

The United States is in the process of attempting to ratify an intercountry adoption treaty with several countries, which supposedly includes a code of ethics to prevent these kinds of systematic abuses, but I have to wonder at how effective that will really be. And for too many people, prospective parents and children alike, it's way too little, way too late.

*At least from what I saw, as close friends adopted their daughter several years ago, and are now going through the process - following the new rules - to adopt a second girl. And as my "niece" is absolutely adorable, and has me wrapped completely around her finger, I am in no way impartial or objective about adoptions because of it.

6 comments:

M. said...

From my perspective, there are two different issues. The most important bioethical issue is the fact that the adoptive parents are exploiting foreign birth families' poverty. These women don't want to give their children up for adoption, they have no other realistic option. Moreover, orphanages frequently tell the birth families that the custody is temporary. Like it or not, prospective parents are contributing to these harms. If prospective parents don't want to acknowledge the harm they cause, and if the media doesn't want to make the American public aware of these harms, then the laws should be restrictive. Perhaps even more so.

The second major bioethical issue in adoption is more introspective: why do researchers refuse to conduct meaningful research on birth parents? Psychologists devote scads of attention to adopted children and adoptive parents, but consistently turn a blind eye to the birth parents. It seems that researchers don't conduct meaningful, methodologically rigorous research on biological mothers because biological mothers are simply not worthy of attention.

The reality is that prospective parents are going overseas because American women won't give their children up for adoption. Why? Because adoption is a psychological nuke to the birth mother, and most pregnant women intuitively know that. Sadly, without the research, more and more religious groups will coerce women into making the worst mistake of their lives.

The real solution is to encourage couples to accept their infertility and move on. Despite what society tells you, you can lead a fulfilling life without children.

BuddhistValkyrie said...

These women don't want to give their children up for adoption, they have no other realistic option.
While this may be the case in some places, I do feel it's important to note that a lot of the places doing international adoption have a glut of orphans due to genocidal wars - places like the Balkans, some areas of Russia and the former Soviet Union, and the like. And they're often places that simply don't have the infrastructure, or finances, for in-country adoptions of their orphans.

I don't think we should knock those who opt to adopt, or who find they have room in their heart for children; it's making a pretty broad claim to say that they're trying to find some sort of meaning in their life because they don't have children, and it's a pretty large logical leap to assume that a couple is infertile because they're adopting. Many simply choose to adopt, instead of have biological children (witness my niece, who has perfectly fertile parents who thought it was better to give an unwanted Chinese girl a home than bring another life into the world), or have room to take in the unwanted. (Plus, if the new rules from China are any indication, a number of people doing adoptions cannot have biological children because of their sexual preference, and until recently it's been much easier for gay and lesbian couples to adopt oversees than here in the United States.)

M. said...

While this may be the case in some places, I do feel it's important to note that a lot of the places doing international adoption have a glut of orphans due to genocidal wars - places like the Balkans, some areas of Russia and the former Soviet Union, and the like. And they're often places that simply don't have the infrastructure, or finances, for in-country adoptions of their orphans.

So the lack of infrastructure morally excuses prospective parents' abuse? If it raises moral qualms in organ transplantation, it should raise moral qualms here.

Further, I'm not convinced that parental death -- even in cases where it's true and not a convenient orphanage lie -- alleviates all concerns. I can't speak to African war adoptions, but I do know that Balkan extended families are heartbroken when they learn about their relatives' deaths. The fact that their nephews and nieces are permanently lost through adoption is an additional affront to a culture that highly values extended familial ties. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, it appears that the pain from adoption is worse. After all, with death there's closure -- but with adoption, there isn't.

I don't think we should knock those who opt to adopt

So if someone's doing something immoral we shouldn't criticize them?

Frankly, the euphemistic approach hasn't been doing much for the (anti-)adoption reform movement -- as is evidenced by the fact that few people outside the triad even knows it exists.

or who find they have room in their heart for children; it's making a pretty broad claim to say that they're trying to find some sort of meaning in their life because they don't have children, and it's a pretty large logical leap to assume that a couple is infertile because they're adopting

Not really. Although non-relational preferential adoptions rates have increased since the 1970s, they're still a minority. What's confusing is that most studies done on adoption don't filter related adoptions (i.e., orphaned nieces, step-children, jailed parents, etc.) from stranger adoptions. Once you account for related adoptions -- and once you start asking if they received fertility treatments before adopting -- infertility seems to be the primary motivator.

a number of people doing adoptions cannot have biological children because of their sexual preference, and until recently it's been much easier for gay and lesbian couples to adopt oversees than here in the United States.

Same-sex adoptions are increasing, but the total number still isn't high enough to dramatically impact adoption statistics. It seems that most LGBT parents had children from prior relationships, fertility treatments, and/or unconventional parenting arrangements.

BuddhistValkyrie said...

Jumping from a lack of infrastructure to prospective parental abuse isn't just a small jump, it's a cow right over the moon. And organ transplants fit into this... how?

While I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt, that this makes sense to what you're thinking internally, externally it's coming off... not terribly coherently.

And sorry, but I've got a plethora of childthings around me that have been adopted - it's going to take a lot more than semi-coherent sentences to convince me they've done anything immoral.

M. said...

Jumping from a lack of infrastructure to prospective parental abuse isn't just a small jump, it's a cow right over the moon.

I'm not talking about conventional, individualized child abuse within families: I'm talking about cultural abuse facilitated by a lack of infrastructure. It has more to do with colonization than with child services.

And organ transplants fit into this... how?

International adoptions share many of the same ethical concerns posed by international organ markets. As I understand it, adoption's ethical basis lies in a birth mother's uncoerced choice to relinquish her child. Claiming that Ukrainian women "freely" chose to relinquish their children is meaningless in the face of such extensive poverty. To the extent that uncoerced choice is the basis for adoption ethics, it prohibits such adoptions from being ethical.

Further, this is why Ukrainians tend to view international adoption as a continuation of colonial (i.e., Russian) exploitation. Money's exchanging hands due to an extreme power imbalance, so from our perspective, it's no different from conventional child trafficking. The only difference is that Russians have been replaced by Americans.

If anything, the reason why Ukraine is cracking down on this is because we want to be seen as a truly equal state. It's going to take a while, but prohibiting traditional forms of colonial exploitation is the place to start. (I'm willing to bet Chinese officials are thinking along the same lines, but I'm not Chinese, so I can't say for certain.)

externally it's coming off... not terribly coherently.

I apologize if that's the case, but ESL happens.

it's going to take a lot more than semi-coherent sentences to convince me they've done anything immoral.

The children haven't done anything immoral. However, by consciously supporting and benefiting from an immoral system, the parents have.

Yvette said...

Great discussion. I, too, was struck by how the idea of "international adoption heartache" was framed without the inclusion of birth parents or "sending" countries.