TV show 'Find My Family' trivializes real-life drama

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Tom Shales's Nov. 23 review of the "Find My Family" reality show, he made a remark about a couple, Sandy and Scotty Steinpas, who were reunited with the daughter they put up for adoption 30 years ago, that invites a response: "Then the Steinpases decided to forget about the legally binding agreement they'd signed in 1979, pledging not to search for their former baby . . . . Why should [they] let a nasty old contract get in the way of their whims?"

Such promises, not uncommon throughout the last century, appear in approximately a third of the surrender documents I have collected as part of my legal scholarship. They were a condition imposed upon the birth parents, without consideration for the future wishes of the child. The birth parents surrendered all rights and would not even know whether the child was adopted or kept in long-term care. After adoption, documents in the hands of adoptive parents often contained the birth mother's name.

Now, in a piece of cruel irony, when birth mothers overwhelmingly support proposed state laws to give their adult children access to their original birth certificates, the mothers are told that the certificates were sealed to protect their anonymity. It is not a whim to grieve the loss of a child and to long to know whether the now-grown child is alive and well.

Elizabeth J. Samuels, Baltimore

© 2009 The Washington Post Company