If you’ve been part of the adoption community for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the word “ethics”. But what does the term “ethics” mean, and how can a person be part of an ethical adoption?
The fairly recent turn toward ethical adoptions stems from two places. First, the years when mothers (usually young and unmarried) were sent to maternity homes, gave birth, were forced to place their babies for adoption, and then returned to their families. Some women didn’t even know if they had a girl or boy and had no idea who became their baby’s parents. The pregnancies and subsequent adoptions were a secret, as pregnancy outside of marriage brought shame upon a family. Examples of such situations have been highlighted in Philomena, The Girls Who Went Away, and The Waiting.
Before we say that those days are over, new ethical questions have arisen. Everything from hopeful parents only adopting from “adoption friendly” states where termination of parental rights is swift and irrevocable, to adoption agencies charging fees based on a child’s race, to adoptees being denied access to their original birth certificates. Many in the adoption community have voiced concerns about posh maternity homes and hopeful parents paying expectant parent living expenses (sometimes upward of $10,000). Parents are now more involved in the hospital experience, leading to questions of possible pressure, even coercion.
These are not easy conversations to have, and there aren’t any cut and dried answers. There are a lot of gray areas, and each adoption is different. But the question remains, why are ethical adoptions so important?
At the heart of any adoption is the adoptee, the person who is adopted. That child will look to his or her adoptive and birth parents and ask questions about how the adoption took place and how it was handled. To be able to answer questions with a clear conscious and transparency is key to having a trusting relationship between parent (birth or adoptive) and child.
The big question is: How can a hopeful parent engage in an ethical adoption?
• Only Work With an Ethical Adoption Professional
If the adoption professional you work with has any hand in your adoption, you are going to be tied to this person for life — because the effects and implications of how the adoption is handled will affect the adoptee, you, and the biological family. You need to ask a lot of questions before hiring an adoption professional. Many families ask the basics, like how much the fees are, the average timeframe from home study to placement, and how many families are currently waiting. But don’t stop there. Ask how expectant parents are supported and counseled during their pregnancy, how early a match is encouraged (and why), what sort of support is offered if the placement fails or if the placement happens, etc. Ideally, your adoption professional is experienced, knowledgeable, educated, professional, and fair.
• Make Ethical Decisions
Much of the ethics in any adoption fall on you. You have the power to say yes or no to any step or situation. It’s ideal to make a list before you leap into adopting about what your boundaries are in terms of paying expectant parent living expenses, what you’re looking for in an adoption professional, and more. Be honest with the expectant parent. If you make promises to a parent you are matched with, keep them. If you aren’t comfortable making certain promises (for example, in terms of a certain number of visits per year), don’t make the promise in the first place. Know that it is ok to say “no”.
• Do Your Homework
Too many families leap into adoption because they get excited and know the process takes time. They swiftly select an agency and are as open as possible, often without being prepared for the realities, in the hopes of securing a faster placement. The best thing a family can do is slow down, take a deep breath, and carefully make decisions, one by one and step by step. Because again, bad decisions lead to lack of ethics, and lack of ethics lead to lifelong implications for the adoptee.
On a personal note, what I am most proud of and thankful for is that during each of our four adoptions, we held tight to our ethical standards. By not wavering, we are able to look our four children in the eyes and truthfully tell them how we handled ourselves, and thus, how we handled the preciousness of their lives and futures.