Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"They're better off with their adoptive parents"

Brian Stuy has an insightful comment on one aspect of the L.A. Times article I posted last week about family planning officials in China confiscating over-quota children from their birth parents:
[T]he article contained a quote that I feel personifies the entire problem in China:

"They're better off with their adoptive parents than their birth parents," argued Wu Benhua, director of Zhenyuan's civil affairs bureau.

To understand the problems found in China's international adoption program, one must understand the racial and economic prejudice that exists in China. Whether it is orphanages offering incentives to buy babies, or Family Planning abusing families by taking unregistered children, the subtext to all of these activities is that most in China's government feel that these birth families are unable to provide a "prosperous and happy future" to their children. A prominent theme in Chinese culture is the belief that if anything can be done to improve a child's future, it should be done. It is this belief that motivates parents to leave their children with grandparents while they work; it is this belief that motivates families to sell their children to orphanages that promise that their child will be adopted by a rich foreign family; and it is this belief that allows a Family Planning official to steal a child from her birth family in order to adopt her internationally.
That's not necessarily an attitude limited to China, is it? We frequently hear the same thing in the U.S. about domestic adoption -- the child would be better off with adoptive parents than with a young, poor, single mother. That's the meme used to convince American expectant mothers to relinquish their children. And we saw in the recent reports from Ethiopia that that line is equally effective on poor mothers there.

Brian calls this attitude a "root of the problem" that leads to corruption in China, the kind of no-big-deal response that allows a government to downplay corruption. I was struck by that attitude in the recently released Unicef report on child trafficking in East and Southeast Asia, expressed in the question from some in charge of combatting trafficking, "Is illegal adoption into loving families exploitative?" Uh. Yes. (Look at that "illegal" part.)

Oftentimes, the assumption that children from China, Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, wherever in the developing world, are better off with white, middle-class, Western, Christian adoptive parents, comes from a toxic mix of classism, racism, misinterpreted conversion theology, and/or xenophobia. That classism is glaringly clear in the statements of the Zhenyuan officials. And yes, a Chinese person can have an internalized racial hatred for all things Chinese. And we saw in the story about "harvesting" children in Ehiopia the emphasis on adoption as a Christian mission, making it not life-saving, but soul-saving, as the objective of adoption.

Make no mistake about it -- children are better off with their biological parents. Adoption is a last resort, a response to a crisis where it is impossible for children to remain with their biological parents. Thinking of adoption any other way is simply wrong. Thinking of adoption in any other way leads to involuntary relinquishments, fraud, coercion and corruption.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just saw a story on the news this morning about a woman who was given the wrong eggs via IVF and has been court-ordered to give the baby to the biological parents when she gives birth. She could have aborted the baby when she found out, but didn't. This story really has me pulled in two directions - a woman got pregnant in good faith, and has carried this baby for 8 months. She is being forced to give up the baby that she will give birth to (and face all the dangers of childbirth in the process). The baby will live with his biological family and may never even know how his life started out. He's better off with his bio family - yet he only exists because another woman chose to give him life.

Wendy said...

You have gone to the heart of big adoption business--soul saving, it seems when a new country opens it revolves around and begins with those who are on a mission to "spread the word" or "save" children. The argument will continue to exist as long as religion and adoption are linked. Some will argue the old lines of "they would end of up dead or languishig in orphanages" to protect those that established the system.
The problem is that there are some children who are in need of homes due to parents not wanting to take care of them or due to custom--the number is far smaller than the number of children available as a whole. The real "saving" of children would come by helping sending countries to change attitudes about disabilities/differences/preferences and financially assisting those who want to parent and cannot. If the goal is to help children, help them stay with their family by educating and assisting.
The finanacial end of helping is the easier part (along with demanding ethics and transperancy in adoption--I know a slow process), the harder issue comes with the smaller percentage of children who are left due to long standing traditions against those who are born different and/or seeing those children as liabilities. It doesn't mean it cannot be done--attitudes about girls are changing in China (despite agencies rhetoric), they can change about differences too.

As for anon's article. IVF and related procedures are really going to have to be examined on a deeper level. Donations of eggs, sperm, embryos, etc. is a different, but similar ballgame. Unfortunately I don't see the same urgency as with adoption with the public in general--it will be in the next few years when the bulk of those children become adults when we see how they feel (assuming they were told). I am surprised by the ruling, it seems the courts are looking at the bio relationship more strongly.

malinda said...

The legal ruling is pretty much in line with how surrogacy disputes are resolved -- the "intending" parent is usually ruled to be the parent. That trend in surrogacy cases is far stronger in gestational surrogacy, where the surrogate can't claim a biological relationship with the child (only the gestational relationship).

What makes this case different, is that both the gestator and the biological progenitors are "intending" parents. The gestator was implanted because she INTENDED to parent the child who resulted. The progenitors also intended to parent any child arising from the embryo they created.

Tough case in legal terms. Can't say whether the ruling is right or wrong, but thought folks might be interested in the kind of legal reasoning involved.

Elizabeth said...

Malinda, maybe you can help me understand this ruling a little better. Let me preface by saying I have only heard about this story from others--I have a 3 year old at home and if it's not on PBS, I don't know about it.
So I heard about this story today at an aerobics class. I was told the woman had the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy. Yet, she is not allowed to parent this child. I feel deeply for all parties involved in this case, but why would she have the option to TERMINATE a child that isn't hers, but not have the option to parent and love the child?
Again, I could be all wrong with my information--it was all hearsay. I was just confused about that. A sticky situation indeed.
Sorry to go so off-topic.

Wendy said...

Interesting. I would think because at this point the fetus is not viable and she has control over her body, but they are giving a "child" to the bio parents.

malinda said...

Wendy has it exactly right, Elizabeth. The mother has the constiutional right to terminate a pregnancy, regardless of whether she's biologically related to the fetus. Same would apply even if she had contracted to be a gestational surrogate -- you can't enforce such a contract by "making" someone continue a pregnancy. It's about the woman's body, not the fetus.

Once the child is born, there is no longer any liberty interest that the "mother" has, since her existence is now separate from the child's interest.

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