Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Makes an Adoption Ethical?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes an adoption ethical -- in both U.S. domestic adoption and international adoption. I'm starting from the proposition that "ethical adoption" is NOT an oxymoron, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise! I'd like a lot of input, so I thought I'd "incentivize" you by adding a poll asking your opinion of your own adoption -- was it ethical? I've divided it up for birth family, adoptive family, and adopted persons.


Here are some questions to help in thinking about some of the issues, but I'm sure I've overlooked a lot, so point out what I've missed, please!


Birth Parents


What does it mean to relinquish voluntarily? Does poverty and powerlessness call into question voluntariness? Or does coercion only matter if done by APs and/or agencies? Lies and false promises to birth parents are coercive, yes? Should birth families be offered help to parent before a relinquishment is deemed voluntary? Does China get a "pass"in terms of ethical issues since birth parents choices are constrained by law? When, if ever, is it justified to give birth parents money in relation to relinquishment? Should minors be allowed to relinquish? Should psychological counseling be required both prior to and following relinquishment? Should relinquishments be signed in the presence of a judicial officer? Is openness -- continuing contact and/or sharing of information -- necessary to make adoption ethical?


Adopted Persons


What is an orphan? Does the existence of extended family make a difference? Is foster care always inadequate to adoption? Should there be a preference for domestic over international adoption? for same-race over transracial adoption? What steps should be required to ensure children are not trafficked? Is "best interest of the child" adequate protection for children in adoption? When children are abandoned, is there an obligation to search for birth family before the child is adoptable? Whose obligation is it? Is openness -- in terms of both information and continuing contact -- an ethical imperative in adoption? How should matching happen? Is centralized government matching preferable to pre-ID'd matches? Does private adoption adequately protect children? Should there be different rules for newborn adoption and older child adoption? Is it ethical to have different fee structures depending on the race of the child?


Adoptive Parents


What screening is necessary for ethical adoptions? Should adoptions by single parents and gay and lesbian couples be allowed? What pre-adoption education requirements are appropriate? What information should APs be able to access about adoption agencies, social workers, attorneys, etc.? What disclosure about fees and fee changes are appropriate? What information about the child should be available before an adoption decision is made? Can there be ethical adoption without post-adoption services -- like counseling, parenting guidance, medical and educational information, etc. -- being made available to adoptive families? Should adoption agencies provide reunion services?


Well, there's a start! Help me out in the comments. And vote in the appropriate poll!

45 comments:

osolomama said...

When it comes to "who's allowed" to adopt, I am all for putting people on a level playing field. Being a couple, gay, lesbian, or single are not sufficient or even relevant criteria for judging who's a good parent.

Great poll. I'll be honest and say I voted "Not sure" on both counts. Because I'm not. I tend to be more certain than not certain that my child was not trafficked because my adoption was in 1998, when there were still lots of girls in China. But you never know.

Mei-Ling said...

There is no such thing as a truly ethical adoption. (Because you don't know the grounds on WHICH It was ethical) Wait, I lie. Domestic adoptions are more ethical.

See, I can just see people saying, "Not MY child! MY adoption was ethical! I checked everything and was super-ethical! No way that MY adoption wasn't ethical."

In terms of your birth parents paragraph, I'm a bit speechless. I don't believe in the idea of "voluntary relinquish" IF there are no resources or support.

"Does poverty and powerlessness call into question voluntariness?"

I'd say so. Sure beats the logic of the "she loved you so much she gave you up because there were no other choices!" spiel.

Someone asked on Yahoo Answers if there was such thing as a perfect adoption - you know, if the ethical issues were all completely checked, if the APs allow an open adoption and foster a healthy cultural connection, etc.

And the first thought that came to my mind?

Absolutely not.

How can something perfect be based on such a broken foundation?

osolomama said...

Why is there the wish for a "perfect" adoption? Why do people need to think this their adoption is squeaky clean? As soon as you sew that money in your undies you ought to see that something is amiss. That is not to say (in my view) that it is all bad or shouldn't happen. I am not anti-adoption. But for reform to happen, we need to lose this Pollyannish mindset.

RamblingMother said...

I would say our girls from China (and some boys) were coercively placed for adoption via the laws in place, family members possibly, medical issues (maybe parents couldn't take care of condition though with financial help may would have parented), and other reasons I haven't thought of yet. Is it ethical? I do believe there are a small minority of parents who don't want to parent but I would imagine that it is such an insignificant number that probably family members could step in. Should adoption end? I am not ready to say that.

Elizabeth said...

I don't know how there would be a way to know if any adoption is 100% ethical. As someone who is in the process of adopting a special needs toddler from Korea, obviously, my hope is that our adoption would be ethical. I have been given records that tell the "story" and supposed reason that his mother placed him for adoption. How can I ever know if that is true? But here is the quandary. Whatever the circumstances, here he is in a foster home (an extremely loving one by all accounts) that is not permanent and he has been waiting for 1.5 years for a permanent family. I don't know the true circumstances of how he ended up there. My first choice for him would have been that his birth family raised him, my second choice for him would be that his foster family would adopt him. I believe there are many reasons why this wouldn't happen, first and foremost because they are old enough to be his grandparents and may not want to walk this road again. I am a distant third choice for him, and I recognize that. But with his needs, no one else is stepping up. We love him already and feel quite comfortable welcoming him into our family. Is this ethical? I don't know, but it is the road we are taking.

Mei-Ling said...

osolomama: Because adoption is often presented as the happily-ever-after story and if there are negatives or doubts put in place, the hackles from the adoptive side rise up and attempt to silence those who speak.

Cassi said...

We do have to take in my own expereince, when I answer this, but I really struggle to see a chance for their to be true ethical adoptions, in the full sense of what it means.

Like another commenter mentioned, the percentage of women who truly don't wish to parent their children has to be small to almost non-existent. So for a woman who deisres to parent her child, where can anything ethical be found in her being unsupported or discouraged from it. (Of course, this is outside children who face genuine harm if left in the care of their mothers.)

There is a failing, I think, in the common belief that the answer for a mother who is struggling in whatever way is to lose her child to another. We believe in a "selfless choice" when the truth so often is "NO CHOICE."

The lack of ethics in adoption don't start with the agencies. It starts in our own culture. In the way we view those who have less than us. In the belief that "more" makes you "better."

It starts in the worlde of poverty. In the lack of support and help to those in need. It begins in the vision that one doesn't "deserve" while another does.

So I don't know where an ethical adoption can exist in such situations.

Anonymous said...

I think ethical adoptions can exist in a milieu of things that aren't ethical. For example, abandonment is definitely unethical as well as an intrusive one-child policy. Getting pregnant outside of marriage is in most cases unethical except in the case of rape. Paying someone to relinquish their child is unethical as well as kidnapping and child trafficking. However, I see nothing unethical in a family adopting a child who is in need of a family through legal channels with the intent to lovingly parent that child. Let's be clear where the lack of ethics really lies.

Mei-Ling said...

"However, I see nothing unethical in a family adopting a child who is in need of a family through legal channels with the intent to lovingly parent that child. Let's be clear where the lack of ethics really lies."

And then there's also those who say that China will keep exporting baby girls as long as they know that Westerners will adopt them.

There's still a huge cultural stigma about abandonment.

Anonymous said...

"And then there's also those who say that China will keep exporting baby girls as long as they know that Westerners will adopt them."

Well, this is really inflammatory language. It assumes that China views these babies as a commodity that they are anxious to produce more of in order to profit from their "sale" to foreigners. In fact, the whole point of the one child law is to reduce the population of China. And in that regard, why are such a small percentage of the children in the orphanages considered available for foreign adoption? If they were so eager for foreigners to adopt, why did they make their rules tougher a couple of years ago? Why is there a 3 year backlog of waiting families? Obviously this is not a money-making scheme for the Chinese government. Rather it is a way to deal with the social fallout of the one-child policy that they deem necessary.

Mei-Ling said...

"It assumes that China views these babies as a commodity that they are anxious to produce more of in order to profit from their "sale" to foreigners."

Well, yes and no. I think that is a very small aspect, but an aspect nonetheless.

The OCP seems to play a huge role in it, as does poverty and disease. But it's ridiculous to refuse to understand that corruption can, does and probably play a role one way or another in terms of China adoptions.

I'm not saying there's *definitely* corruption in every adoption. But based on China's documentaries, other countries setting stricter guidelines to prevent child trafficking, fears in the adoption community are not exactly unwarranted.

Anonymous said...

"And then there's also those who say that China will keep exporting baby girls as long as they know that Westerners will adopt them."

There are "those" who will say just about anything to further their personal views upon others, particularly if they feel emotionally charged about a subject.

Given the persistent decline in China's rates of referral for the last several years, your allegation is clearly incorrect.

What exactly do you know about China's international adoption program, other then what "those" say?

"There is no such thing as a truly ethical adoption. (Because you don't know the grounds on WHICH It was ethical) Wait, I lie. Domestic adoptions are more ethical."

If you don't know the grounds on "which it was ethical", how can you make a sweeping statement that there is no such thing as a truly ethical adoption?

Personally, I think you have a axe to grind and express things the way you do to make opportunity to grind away. Which is absolutely fine and OK for you. But it is unreasonable to expect everyone will bow to your will on the subject.

osolomama said...

"And in that regard, why are such a small percentage of the children in the orphanages considered available for foreign adoption? If they were so eager for foreigners to adopt, why did they make their rules tougher a couple of years ago? Why is there a 3 year backlog of waiting families? Obviously this is not a money-making scheme for the Chinese government. Rather it is a way to deal with the social fallout of the one-child policy that they deem necessary."

I suggest you visit Research-China.org (click on the blog and browse the archives) and look at some of the information around this subject. It may be that that are actually fewer healthy girls now--and that's what a-parents want. That trafficking in international adoption exists in China (see http://www.ethicanet.org/MeierZhang.pdf) has been already been established. That trafficking and corruption exist in China in related venues is addressed in the same article. That stricter conditions have been imposed on parents adopting internationally speaks more to the fact that the number of healthy infant girls is actually diminishing and we are no longer in the heyday of the Dying Rooms. Hence, the increase in the orphanage fee as well. Meanwhile, the number of kids with special needs grows, and the wait to adopt from that list is--predictably--shorter. Lots to chew on.

malinda said...

Anonymous,

I love lively discussion. Ad hominem attacks, however, are not appropriate. Please refute the argument rather than attacking the arguer.

Thanks!

Diane said...

Huh. I don't know Malinda- I do think there needs to be some elasticity when it comes to mandating locating a biological family before adoption occurs. I am biased by witnessing my 10 year old's deep seated pain from waiting so long (8 years) for the permanence of family. Of course, China runs the finding ads but with abandonment being illegal- how does a biological family step forward anyhow? There are children who adoption = survival. How long do we make them wait- what constitutes a thorough search?

I checked out the definition of 'ethical' and found the following-

Synonyms:
2. moral, upright, honest, righteous, virtuous, honorable.
Antonyms:
2. immoral.

Is adoption black and white- Moral vs. immoral...

Is there a gray area that is still the 'right' thing? Is there such a thing as 'ethical enough'?

I don't know- but I am sure thinkin' on it.

Mei-Ling said...

"There are "those" who will say just about anything to further their personal views upon others, particularly if they feel emotionally charged about a subject."

The issue of supply-and-demand is certainly not unwarranted for people to risk when discussing IA. That is all I will say on that matter. It is not unheard of.
BUT - I do believe the bigger issue is womens' cultural and soci-economical rights in rural areas.

"Given the persistent decline in China's rates of referral for the last several years, your allegation is clearly incorrect."

You are entirely right - the rates of referrals and adoptions DID slow that. However, the processes were slowed and even halted at times to make sure things were being ethically done.

"If you don't know the grounds on "which it was ethical", how can you make a sweeping statement that there is no such thing as a truly ethical adoption?"

Because the adoptive parents do not know any more than I do if the child was *ethically* brought to the orphanage or abandoned.

I say the possibility of them knowing is more likely than me, of course. But even from their travels and finding out as much information as they can, they still don't know for sure.

"But it is unreasonable to expect everyone will bow to your will on the subject."

Actually this is based on China documentaries and the news coverage stories about child trafficking.

Fears about such risks aren't exactly impossible to explore... there's always the possibility. Might be very slim, might be almost non-existence, but they are there...

By the way, anonymous, why not log on as your name?

Mei-Ling said...

ETA: I highly disagree that many adoptions from China are necessarily unethical to start off with.

But that doesn't mean we can just brush off the ones that might be.

No one really wants to think their child may have been trafficked and brought to an orphanage that way...

Anonymous said...

"Actually this is based on China documentaries and the news coverage stories about child trafficking."

That is a common distortion. Such documentaries and news coverage has never shown a link to formal adoptions (internal or external). It has absolutely nothing to do with international adoption, and everything to do with people in China buying babies through criminal sources to expand their family instead of following the laws of China and going through the legally governed domestic adoption process.

osolomama said...

"Such documentaries and news coverage has never shown a link to formal adoptions (internal or external)."

Anon, so you don't think the Hunan baby buying scandal occurred or you think it was a one-time only deal and that all trafficking has stopped as a result? That is simply not realistic. It is probably more symptomatic than idiosyncratic. That is not to say, as Mei-Ling has pointed out, that all adoptions start out this way or that this was remotely the intent of the China adoption program to start with.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, so you don't think the Hunan baby buying scandal occurred or you think it was a one-time only deal and that all trafficking has stopped as a result? That is simply not realistic. It is probably more symptomatic than idiosyncratic."

Oh it happened all right, and there is no reason to believe it was unique either. There is also no reason to believe some of the more sinister misrepresentations of what actually happened. It is often held up and portrayed as much more then actual facts demonstrate it to have been, often in a very unqualified manner.

The Hunan scandal is much more about real life poor conditions and choices in a very rural and poor part of a province that force families to make choices they would really rather not have to make, and the willingness of people to do more then just turn their heads and let children lay in a ditch by a field and die of neglect. Would it be better to follow traditional local practice of tossing the unwanted child into a ditch to die, or to look for an effective alternative to better insure the child had a chance at life in an actual family unit? A real ethical question ignored by most in this dialog.

There is much that has been covered on this very subject in other places on the internet, so there is little point in belaboring it further since it is actually not on topic. I

Adoption is something that society ideally should never need to use as a recourse to institutional life for a child. I'm sure we all would agree with this, yes? Unfortunately, the world is far from that pure and ideal, so adoption, properly governed and administered creates a solution for children that otherwise will never have a family, a home, and social and relational benefits that come with it.

Every adoption is unique, with unique outcomes, challenges, and issues. You cannot generalize them or label them to put in neat tidy little compartments. To try to sweep all adoption into debate over ethical or nonethical is an exercise that tends to ignore the orphans, in favor of academic discussion. There is nothing actually wrong with doing so, but let's not pretend it is more then it is.

Adoption solves real problems in the real world for the beneficial outcome of precious human beings. It has positive ethical outcomes. It would be unethical to deny this.

The real question posed by the blog owner is what makes an adoption ethical. She posed it by breaking it down into, for lack of a better phrase, specific interest group based views and a framework for each group to consider and respond. Probably as good an approach as any on such a divisive topic. But with the passion percolating within the different groups around such a passionate subject, there will be many ideas, many feelings, many bad feelings, lots of different feelings of guilt, extremes of uncertainty, little agreement.

Divisive topics seek binary choices of resolution. Ethics does not operate in binary fashion precisely because the world is not ideal, humans are involved, and human beings are a complicated presence on this planet.

Mei-Ling said...

"It has positive ethical outcomes. It would be unethical to deny this."

It has positive ethical outcomes, yes. But the ROOT of it still may not necessarily have been ethical.

Is the OCP ethical? No. Is the outcome (adoption) ethical as a result of child abandonment? In many cases, yes.

That still doesn't mean the OCP is a good thing BECAUSE of what it causes.

By the way, I know this is off-topic, but what do you think of Korea's attempt to implement change in social (privilege) and economical mindsets so that less babies will be sent into Western worlds? Their goal is to end IA by 2012. Do you think that is realistic or idealistic?

osolomama said...

“The Hunan scandal is much more about real life poor conditions and choices in a very rural and poor part of a province that force families to make choices they would really rather not have to make, and the willingness of people to do more then just turn their heads and let children lay in a ditch by a field and die of neglect. Would it be better to follow traditional local practice of tossing the unwanted child into a ditch to die, or to look for an effective alternative to better insure the child had a chance at life in an actual family unit? A real ethical question ignored by most in this dialog.”

Nobody here is saying that adoption should stop—I believe most of us are adoptive parents. There are people with that extreme view but I am not one of them. Yes, adoption is theoretically ethical; however, in this time and place, international adoption has been compromised by cash.

The Hunan scandal is about trafficking, whether you like it or not—in fact, it's possible that these babies were not all abandoned. There's evidence that this particular operation targeted migrant workers because it was believed police wouldn't take the reports of child abduction so seriously.

This does not mean that the very real injustices and disparities you point out don't exist. One reason for talking about the ethics of one's own adoption is figuring out how one might address those injustices.

I know the question often is: OK, then, what are you going to do for a child right now? If I had to do something right now, make the decision right now, I would probably choose fostering and adoption from fostering. If I had tons of money, I'd try to set up a fund for free cleft palate surgery so parents in China would not abandon because of this correctable condition. If somebody wants to start such an operation, I'll contribute. Just my 2 cents.

bukimom said...

Getting back to the original question of what makes an adoption ethical. While there is no way to know with 100% certainty how a child became available for adoption, especially in the case of foreign adoption, if you don't have special reason to suspect shady dealings, then you can consider the adoption ethical. You are providing a home and family to a child who otherwise would not have one. What is unethical about that?

At the same time, knowledge of policies and practices that often lead to child relinquishment puts us in the special position of someone who is "aware." As someone who truly cares about child welfare in this world, we should have a concern not just to provide a home to one needy child, but to work toward righting those societal wrongs that lead to relinquishment in the first place. To have no such concern would, in my opinion, be unethical.

Anonymous said...

"it's possible that these babies were not all abandoned. There's evidence that this particular operation targeted migrant workers because it was believed police wouldn't take the reports of child abduction so seriously."

Sorry, but your statements are counter to both the records of the court in China and counter to numerous credible evaluations of the facts that came out on Hunan.

You are attempting to blend abductions in China with what was investigated and reported about the Hunan scandal.

There is a long standing criminal enterprise inside China where children are stolen from one family and sold to another family in China that desires a child and for whatever reason does not want to follow the law. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Hunan case, and to date has never credibly been linked to any placement of orphans by an SWI in China with either domestic or international families for adoption. Nothing in the Hunan case supports even the remotest of associations with this type of crime, nor your accusation.

The facts of the case on Hunan specifically portray the abandonment of children in a very rural and poor section of one province to a lady who had a long standing reputation of caring for children abandoned by families who had to make hard choices about their family. This same woman had a very credible reputation over the years in that area for in fact finding homes for such children through informal means. In the Hunan case, the positive efforts by this woman resulted ultimately in the relocation of children to another province and in the hands of orphanages in that province. All reports, and all findings show that this woman was acting in the interests of children who were willingly abandoned by their families and needed homes. She could have entered into a relationship with criminal traffickers who sell children to other families in China. She did not. That does not justify the methods she choose to see that these children found their way to a better life. What she did was wrong. But in the context of China, to declare it to be nefarious trafficking is a gross mischaracterization.

The specific area of China where this woman lived and the children were abandoned is an incredibly poor area, with very limited orphan care facilities, facilities that have been credibly reported to be very substandard even by Chinese standards.

Despite the fact that the woman named in the case broke the law, her actions and motives were centered on helping insure these children were placed with orphanages where they had a reasonable chance of actually being better cared for and possibly adopted.

Follow sensible rule of law - find actual cridible evidence of children being abducted from their families and then sold to orphanages for profit, before making sweeping indictments of another countries adoption program. There are some very well known harsh critics of China's program that have been trying to do exactly that, without success. Why is that?

malinda said...

Anonymous,

Could you supply the sources for your information about the Hunan scandal? I'm sure we'd all appreciate learning more about what you revealed, since it isn't in any of the media reports I've seen.

Thanks!

osolomama said...

Anon, regarding whether the children were abducted or abandoned—you may be correct that the evidence for abduction is sparse. I've blogged before about the fact that outright kidnapping is probably rare and is sometimes overstated. With respect to the Hunan case, I have only seen this possibility cited once.

However, it's not relevant to the issue of trafficking or the Human case. In fact, it's a red herring.

I think you're trying to say that since child abduction has nothing to do with the Hunan case (OK, so far, you might be right) and child abduction has “never credibly been linked to any placement of orphans by an SWI in China with either domestic or international families for adoption” (let's say for the sake of argument you're correct, but I thuink you're naive to think so) that “nothing in the Hunan case supports even the remotest of associations with this type of crime, nor your accusation.”

That is not true. Again, abduction is not the deciding issue. If abandoned babies are an adoption “market” because of the fee they represent, and if orphanage directors collude with traffickers to divert babies to their institutions and collect the compulsory donation, then it's trafficking. There doesn't need to be abduction to make this a criminal enterprise. Moreover, such environment would actually feed the potential for abduction.

I don't think the trafficking is in question here.

Court records to show that “Seeking windfall profits, these welfare centers had for years colluded with dealers in human beings in order to collect babies to be put on the market for foreign adoption.”

Deng Fei, “The Hengyang Infant Dealing Case: Benevolence or vice?” Fenghuang Weekly

“As would later come out at trial, the Hengyang Social Welfare Institute had been buying babies from traffickers since 2002. Early on, orphanage officials acted as baby brokers, selling the children to other orphanages that placed the children for international adoption and collected $3,000 per child in mandatory contributions from adoptive parents. In 2004, the Henyang Orphanage obtained permission to participate in China's intercountry adoption program, at which point it began placing the trafficked children directly with Western adoptive parents and collecting the donations.”

Meier and Shang, “Sold into Adoption” Cumberland Law Review (39:1)

I personally don't see how this can be justified.

Anonymous said...

"I think you're trying to say that since child abduction has nothing to do with the Hunan case (OK, so far, you might be right) and child abduction has “never credibly been linked to any placement of orphans by an SWI in China with either domestic or international families for adoption” (let's say for the sake of argument you're correct, but I thuink you're naive to think so) that “nothing in the Hunan case supports even the remotest of associations with this type of crime, nor your accusation.” "

Naivete is in the eyes of the perceiver. It may or may not reflect any basis in actual reality.

One of the disturbing aspects of ethics discussion about adoption is the fact that money is always considered as evidence of corrupt and unethical actions. If money changes hands, then the process is fundamentally corrupt and evil.

Another distrubing fact is the number of parents who adopted from the China program that are critical or condemn the program after they have adopted. Ethics preadoption are equal to ethics post adoption aren't they? Or is the matter of ethics conditional on where you are in the process?

Stand alone, the presence of money does not equal corruption or ethics violations, especially in cultures that are fundamentally different then your own. Yet it is a popular limtus test used by people who live thousands of miles away in a different country with different culture, and who do not have to actually live and deal with the harsh realities of why children are abandoned. To magnanimously pass judgement from thousands of miles away, without any personal observation, understanding, or verification of what is really taking place is naive in my opinion.

The blog owner gave people an opportunity to comment on what makes an adoption ethical, and did so to enable others to present views from different perspectives of birth mother, adoptive parent, adoptee. Yet, what floats quickly up are the usual sweeping accusations about adoption programs, rather then actual adoption cases. Why is that?

"trafficking" is the currently preferred buzz term, used out of context in terms of both action, fact and culture, to condemn a foreign adoption program rather then specific parties who choose to break the law. You do not indict a program on the basis of nonsystemic illegal behaviors by a few criminals. If you do, no program of adoption, or even institutional care meets your test. In which case, you as a parent who adopted have violated your own positional ethics. Do you feel guilty about your adoption? You do realize that what took place in Hunan at the turn of the decade was also taking place in China long before hand, right? A level playing field on the topic of Hunan requires that you recognize that the fundamentals of what took place did not magically begin after we entered the 21st century. No newspaper article or expose is going to give you the answer though about your specific adoption. In the same way, no newspaper article, especially considering the poor verification of facts is going to indict your adoption.

Prove systemic illegal behaviors, actually prove them, not speculate about them or draw conjecture based upon unverified media reports. Then you have reasonable grounds for your views on the program you adopted from.

Many adopted children will be reading these blogs and media in the years to come. I think we owe it to them to refrain from distorting and projecting in a speculatory manner in the absence of clear and verifiable evidence.

osolomama said...

Ethics pre- and post-adoption ought to be the same, of course. But the information changes and the situation itself changes, so what might seem ethical before may be considered in a new light as new information appears. I've had 11 years to mull on this and watch the developments unfold.

There is nothing to prevent any parent from eventually having this discussion with his or her child. I would advise it. BTW, I don't feel guilty about my adoption at all. What gave you that idea? I acted in good faith on the information I had at the time. I also get down on my knees every day for the person at the CCAA who matched me with my daughter. None of this prevents me from thinking about the issues raised in the articles I cited.

Of course, there's very little that we can personally verify in this world, and that's why we depend on newspapers and journals to give us information. You claim that corruption in international adoption amounts to "nonsystemic illegal behaviors by a few criminals" and that reports on the subject amount to "poor verifcation of facts." That's fine; you can think that. My thinking on the subject leads me in another direction.

Anonymous said...

"Ethics pre- and post-adoption ought to be the same, of course. But the information changes and the situation itself changes, so what might seem ethical before may be considered in a new light as new information appears."

Excused on the grounds of missing information at the time? Convenient.

The real point in our dialog here is that you appear OK with dropping unsubstantiated accusations broadly upon a program and passing judgement upon an entire program on the basis of information presented in the media that has been materially discredited by the court records, and by credible people knowledgeable on the subject, some of which are actually critics of the program.

In reality, the position you take today, different then in 1998 I gather from your comments, cannot be attributed to your adoption, my adoption, or anyone elses adoption of a child from China either in the past or in the future.

The ONLY thing relevant for any particular orphan and family adoption are the specific circumstances and series of events leading up to the family adopting the child. One of the reasons that the requirements, hurdles, and intrusions into our lives is tedius and extreme is because there are multiple governments working together to do their very best to insure the ethical operation of an adoption program every step of the way, for every child, and for every family.

Each adoption is unique and you either know the circumstances or you do not. If you do not, nothing you read or hear can be projected onto the adoption in any sane and rational manner.

Sweeping generalizations cannot and do not apply any more then guilt by association applys in the justice systems applied by our nation. Such generalizations in fact create an environment of lasting words on the internet that other families children will read and struggle with in later years. Such generalizations used in such a manner are precisely not ethical in my view. It's an insane disposition and misuse of conjecture or accusation placed in the public domain, where adopted orphans who rightfully want information about their birth and their birth country and culture will have to wade through in future years. Each of these orphans deserves better then this. They deserve personal compassion and discussion about their adoption and their culture of birth without needless and inflamatory clutter of projection and speculation from people who have little or no actual first hand clue or knowledge but plenty of opinion and judgement.

Mei-Ling said...

"I think we owe it to them to refrain from distorting and projecting in a speculatory manner in the absence of clear and verifiable evidence."

Well, in this case, we should all just shut up and stop discussing adoption, because there is no way ANY of us can ever be 100% of what makes an adoption ethical or how money exchanged hands in an appropriate manner or even what happened prior to the orphanage.

No one has ANY "real" evidence prior to abandonment. So that's out of the question. And the info that a-parents received is almost always AFTER the orphanage, which may not even be accurate. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. I don't know. Neither do you.

So maybe we should just stop talking about adoption and assume everything was ethical given the circumstances at the time, not 20/20 hindsight. That's what we all want, isn't it?

malinda said...

Anonymous,

I'm reading you as advocating a presumption that all adoptions are ethical unless proven otherwise.

And a system of orphanages paying finding fees to people bringing in abandoned children does not rebut the presumption.

And evidence of people paying finding fees to abandoning parents so that the people can pass on the child to the orphanage for a higher fee, thus ensuring a profit, does not rebut the presumption.

What, then, would rebut the presumption in your mind?

The problem with a system that pays cash for children -- in that impoverished world you know so much about -- is that people WITHOUT children to sell will look for children to sell. And that means buying them or stealing them from someone else.

Defending a corruption-prone system isn't necessarily the best thing for international adoption. And it doesn't excuse it to say it's different in that part of the world. I don't think you'd defend such a system in the U.S. If not, why defend it in another country?

malinda said...

Diane,

I love that you looked to the dictionary to start your thinking on ethical adoption! Moral, upright, honest. That would be the standard.

But you note that maybe adoption isn't so black and white as ethical vs. unethical. Don't ethics have to apply even more strongly in gray areas?

malinda said...

Osolomama,

I appreciate your sticking to your guns in this long wrangle! I think my journey has mirrored yours in some aspects.

Yes, facts on the ground change -- an adoption program that was once ethical may become unethical. In fact, that seems to be the big problem with adoption programs all around. They start out fine, and then the vast amounts of cash available calls to human greed, and corruption enters. When the corruption gets bad enough, the program closes, and adoptive parents move on to some other program that looks promising and then the cash leads to corruption there, too....

I chose China for my first adoption 8 years ago because of its ethical reputation. Yes, even then, there were problems, and to the extent I knew about them I minimized them and ignored them and denied them. I did it again with my second adoption from China 4 years ago. Then, I had even more knowledge that suggested some problems. I ignored it. I'm not necessarily proud of that fact, but I did.

As my kids have gotten older, one of the things that has become increasingly evident to me is that THEY are smarter than I ever could have imagined. THEY won't let me hide my head in the sand because THEY deserve answers. And sometimes the answers are quite ambiguous. Sigh.

malinda said...

OK, how about we work on a list -- what makes an adoption ethical?

1.

2.

3.

4.

......

osolomama said...

In reality, the position I take today has evolved from the position I took in 1998.

"The real point in our dialog here is that you appear OK with dropping unsubstantiated accusations broadly upon a program and passing judgement upon an entire program on the basis of information presented in the media that has been materially discredited by the court records, and by credible people knowledgeable on the subject, some of which are actually critics of the program."

Please show us your evidence instead of merely declaring my information unsubstantiated. I cited two sources. If you think the information contained therein is incorrrect, be specific about it.

By the way, twice you have accused me of broadly attacking the adoption program. I have not. I have cited specific abuses described in the public record as evidence of corruption.

"The ONLY thing relevant for any particular orphan and family adoption are the specific circumstances and series of events leading up to the family adopting the child."

No it is not. That is like saying the only thing relevant to your child's education or health care is his or her personal experience with the system. Adoption doesn't just happen to individuals--it's an institution we agree to participate in as families and societies. We all have a stake in how it is practised.

osolomama said...

Malinda, when I came home from China, I was most curious about the whole adoption scene. Prior to going I was also involved in an unethical agency at this end that we had to shut down. Why? Same deal: exploiting a demand.

I know what you mean about that funny feeling. The thing is, it's possible to have 1. the funny feeling, 2. respect for China and the intent and goals of its program, 3. love for your daughter, 4. support of adoption and 5. a willingness to talk about corruption. . .all at the same time. You can hold all five things together in your mind at once.

Anonymous said...

"Please show us your evidence instead of merely declaring my information unsubstantiated. I cited two sources. If you think the information contained therein is incorrrect, be specific about it."

--------

"for adoptive families, it is of great comfort to know that the children involved in this case (at least the 18 involved in the current trial) were not kidnapped, but were brokered by their birth parents to a conduit woman who brought them to the orphanage for sale. No doubt this knowledge will allow all of us greater peace of mind as we tuck our Chinese daughters and sons into bed tonight." - Brian Stuy, see links below

"Families with unwanted children approached this woman, due to her well-known connections for finding homes for unwanted children (she apparently has been facilitating adoptions for over 10 years). These parents would give Ms. Liang a "Lucky Money" envelope with 20 or 30 yuan in it as thanks for locating a family to care for their children. No money was paid to the birth parents for their children, and no birth parents were ever approached about giving up their child. Ms. Liang initially took in some of these girls herself, caring for them until she could locate adoptive families. - Anthony Kuhn, NPR, see links below

http://hengdong.typepad.com/hengdong_swi/2006/03/change_reverts_.html

http://research-china.blogspot.com/2006/02/what-is-truth-in-hunan.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5230517

http://research-china.blogspot.com/2006/02/rest-of-story.html

http://research-china.blogspot.com/2006/03/letter-to-washington-post.html

http://research-china.blogspot.com/2006/03/what-we-can-learn-from-hunan.html

I could go on and on. You are just as capable of retrieving relevant information from the internet as I am. You just have to be willing to explore with an open mind rather then be spoon fed by media channels.

Perfect country program with zero issues? NO. No program is. But that does not invalidate the ethics of the program either.

Anonymous said...

to emphazize one more time:

"Let me again re-emphasize that these children were not kidnapped, abducted, or purchased from birth parents. They were given to Ms.Liang because she had perceived connections, and because she eliminated the risk to the birth family of abandoning their child themselves. In all likelihood, as one adoptive parent writes (and was repeatedly stated in the trial), all concerned viewed this program as a benefit to the children involved." Brian Stuy, see links above.

malinda said...

Anon,

Keep reading what Brian Stuy has to say, and you'll see that the benevolent Mrs. Liang started to buy children when abandonments slowed down in her area, so that she could sell them to the orphanages. Read that her college-student son returned home to help run the business. Starts sounding a bit more commercial, no?

Cassi said...

***I chose China for my first adoption 8 years ago because of its ethical reputation. Yes, even then, there were problems, and to the extent I knew about them I minimized them and ignored them and denied them. I did it again with my second adoption from China 4 years ago. Then, I had even more knowledge that suggested some problems. I ignored it. I'm not necessarily proud of that fact, but I did.***

Malinda,

I have stayed out of the remaining discussion in this post because I don't know enough about IA to feel like I would make an "informed" contribution. But I have to say your statement above hit a cord with me.

Not just because it gave me even more respect for you than I already carried, but because even as a first/natrual mom, I can relate. Because I also had doubts and questions. I wasn't exactly so sure either, and yet I still placed my son in the arms of his adoptive mom all those years ago. Even though I now recognize that certain "others" made sure I wouldn't change my mind, I still think if I had, myself, spent more time figuring out my own doubts and reservations about the adoption, I would not have been so weak as to allow their games to affect me in the end.

And like you, I'm not proud of what I did either, but I have to stand up and say, yes, I did it.

osolomama said...

I think you really have to set this one paragraph against the body of Brain Stuy's work and his analysis of China. Malinda has already raised one important point.

Quote:

"Many cases of orphanage trafficking exist, but nothing has been done by the CCAA to resolve these problems."

Quote:

"In May 2008 ABC News reported that the Fuzhou, Jiangxi orphanage, the largest internationally adopting orphanage in China, freely acknowledges buying babies. 'Mr. Zhou, the deputy director of the Fuzhou Welfare orphanage, told a caller over the phone, without hesitation, that the orphanage pays around $300 for baby girls.'"

Quote:

"It is obvious from the Changde, Fuzhou and Hunan trials that the CCAA does not take trafficking by orphanages seriously. In fact, it is probable that the CCAA feels that baby-buying is a good thing, since it helps in "maintaining little lives’ interests on the aspect of preserving the continuance of the abandoned baby girls’ lives". They maintain this even in the face of the evidence that such baby-buying contributes to the kidnapping problem plaguing China."

http://research-china.blogspot.com/2009/01/changde-hunan-case-study-in-trafficking.html

Again, no one said the whole program was unethical.

Anonymous said...

"It is obvious from the Changde, Fuzhou and Hunan trials that the CCAA does not take trafficking by orphanages seriously. In fact, it is probable that the CCAA feels that baby-buying is a good thing, since it helps in "maintaining little lives’ interests on the aspect of preserving the continuance of the abandoned baby girls’ lives". They maintain this even in the face of the evidence that such baby-buying contributes to the kidnapping problem plaguing China."

1) Brian hates the China government and has a passion for declaring it's corrupt nature. Not just with regard to adoption, but by virtue of him be a self-declared spokes person for all parents, he strives to discredit CCAA. The fact remains that the small number of instances where Brian "claims" to have evidence, that is never ever "disclosed", point to local provincial corruption.

For people convinced of the tainted nature of the program, that alone should be cause for concern as it does nothing to raise the credibility level of such conviction. It in fact works against such conviction.

2) Seriously consider, unlike earlier works in the field of China IA, Brian is unable or unwilling to substantiate any of the above commentary with supporting facts that can be confirmed. He has never presented even one verifiable fact to support his allegations. His attempts to pull the press into his cause to present facts on his behalf have failed. His participation in last years Dutch documentary on "alleged" corruption in the China IA program was investigated by Dutch authorities and found to be baseless. With each failure, his effort becomes more extreme and subjective.

3) With each failed attempt to torpedo Chinese authority, Brian has become more and more elipitcal in his analysis and commentary, and more jaded and angry. To the point now where anyone or any orgainization or government who disagrees with his conclusions, or does not follow his trail of speculation is immediately declared as ignorant, naive, or lacking in ethics. A more and more common theme used by those critical of the program by the way.

4) From a sensible standpoint you might see the need to reconcile Brian's lucid, well thought out, and well substantiated analysis and conclusions in 2006 on the Hunan scandal with Brian's eliptical smoke and mirrors efforts in 2008 and 2009 to discredit CCAA. They are oil and water.

OR, you can proceed with your locked decisions on the nature and character of the program and the people within the program that allowed you the priviledge of adopting an orphan child.

malinda said...

I love it! When you agree with Brian's conclusions, he's a reliable source. And when you disagree with his conclusions, he's completely unreliable and biased!

Look, we're losing sight of the big picture here. What is ETHICAL about China adoption? I believe there are some things it does well -- there are no under-the-table bribes expected of adoptive parents; the fee structure is fairly set and doesn't change wildly; the centralized matching process avoids hordes of adoptive parents shopping for babies in-province.

Setting aside for a moment the money-for-babies problem, other problems with the China system include lack of transparency and a system built on a policy of questionable ethics -- the one child policy/social preference for boys, coupled with the decision-maker rarely being the birth mother but usually the mother-in-law, so nothing remotely resembling a voluntary relinquishment takes place.

It would seem to me that the way to approach ethics in adoption is to agree on a set of standards, and then examine different programs to see if they comply. Instead, we seem to be approaching it backward, looking at the programs to see if we can justify what they do. When we do it that way, we get defensive and bring our program-preserving axes to grind.

osolomama said...

I agree with what is right about the China system--you can't throw your money around and be treated any differently and you can't orphan-shop. Lack of transparency is a major hurdle along with cash for babies at the supplier end.

Yeah, I was thinking we'd gone off track and was going to post this. Here's my list:

An ethical adoption is one in which (ideally)

1. the original parents have not been coerced, bribed, or offered other incentives

2. there is proof of relinquishment such as a certificate signed by the parent(s)

3. there is a certificate of abandonment if the child was abandoned stating the finder and the date of finding

[It should be noted that neither 2 nor 3 addresses the issue of coercion as it plays out in reality but might do something about trafficking. Whether these things are even realistic in some settings remains to be debated]

4. If the child has been in an orphanage for a period of time, there are no relatives visiting or intending to be re-united with the child (this has been fictionalized in some adoptions)

5. the adoptive parents and the agency representing them have done due dilligence to ensure this child is free to be adopted and that children coming from the region have not been traded or abducted

6. Adopted children receive the information they need about themselves and birth family search is possible (something some of us are involved with now and that Jane Liedtke feels the CCAA may even be involved with down the road)

7. fees cover administrative costs only

These are thoughts only. Some people will have different ideas, such as there should be a cooling off period before relinquishment is irrevocable, and that parents should leave some information about children relinquished. This would not be possible in some contexts, of course.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read through all the posts, but I agree with the sentiment that it is often impossible to know how ethical an adoption was. Adoption is a messy thing, as is much of life. It is an imperfect attempt to solve one or more problems on the part of all involved and as is often the case with problems, an attempt to solve one problem ends up creating other problems. Each of us can do something, to the extent that we are able, to minimize the problems surrounding adoption. Someone mentioned the fact that many babies born with cleft lip and/or palate end up being relinquished. Helping to heal children born with this problem is one way to improve the chances that these children can stay with their birth families or if already relinquished, to find forever families. Love Without Boundaries has started a couple of "Cleft Healing Homes" to help children in China who were born with this condition. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bBIEF-j7Jc for more info.

Sue (aka Anonymous)