SHOULD an adult who at birth was given up for adoption have access to the name and last known address of his natural parents? That question is being debated by adoption officials, psychologists, adult adoptees -- and, increasingly, state legislators. At least four state legislatures have passed laws giving adult adoptees access to records of their adoption. A bill before the Maryland General Assembly would add that state to the list.
The bill provides that in the future the records of all adoptions completed after July 1 of this year shall be available to the adopted person upon his 21st birthday. Adoption agencies would be required to inform parents of the new policy before they accepted a child. But, as originally proposed, the bill also would have permitted adopted persons who are now 21 or older to obtain from an adoption agency the names and last known address of their natural parents, regardless of whether the parents wanted the information released. That provision was criticized by adoption officials and others -- correctly so, in our view. They believe, as we do, there exists in this situation a conflict of rights: Adopted persons who are adults may have a theoretical "right" to know the identity of their natural parents. But the natural parents, who, often under grim circumstances, relinquished their child years ago when adoption was viewed differently and who then received implicit --and, in some cases, explicit -- promises of eternal anonymity, certainly have a strong claim to the right of privacy. The appearance of a child they've never publicly acknowledged could traumatically disrupt both their public and private lives.
Now the bill's sponsors say they will offer an amendment that would give this group of biological parents strict control over the release of identifying information. Under the terms of the amendment, an adoption agency wouldn't be able to release identifying information for an adoption completed before July 1 without the natural parents' permission.
This amendment, we believe, is a wise one. Its inclusion in the adoption-records bill would provide adult adoptees an easier way to make contact with their natural parents and would ensure that such a reunion was sought by both sides. those active in promoting the opening of adoption records to adults who were adopted say such provisions really aren't needed because the available evidence indicates overwhelmingly that biological parents wish some contact with their grown children. That may be so, but, in our view, a law that breaks new ground in an area involving the most poignant and personal of human emotions had best be cautious about how much ground it breaks. What is needed here is a balancing of the rights of all involved. That is what the proposed adoption-records bill -- with the new amendment -- would bring about.