Adoption Ethics Extend Far Beyond Secrets and Obligations

Recent letters written by parents who relinquished children for adoption have appeared in widely read newspaper columns by "Ask Amy" (from a father who impregnated his girlfriend at age 16) and ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah (from a woman who relinquished "many decades ago"). The common thread woven into both letters was secrecy, shame, and the implied, or at least assumed, quid pro quo "bargain" struck between birth/first parents and the people who adopt their children:

If I give you my baby, you will never tell them who I am, and I will never have to tell anyone about this "sordid part of my history" or experience the dreaded "knock on my door" (from the father) and how "I did something wrong, and then I did something right" (from the mother).

Amy and Kwame offered two very different responses. One appears to come from a place of love; appropriate for all months, but especially the month of February. The other has all the warmth of the terms and conditions that come with a new mobile phone.

Amy recommended that the father tell his family the truth and reframe his thinking away from his "terrible mistake" and replace it with light, truth, acceptance and forgiveness.

Kwame framed the transaction in terms of begetting, being released from, and fulfilling obligations, including whether or not to raise the child and respecting the birth/first mother's privacy.

Pastoral counselor Ron Nydam, Ph.D., a man whose life work has been devoted to understanding and creating a place of love and empowerment for those of us "touched" (or clobbered) by relinquishment and adoption, has voiced this perspective many times in the past, and I find it much more ethical than that of the ethicist: "If you contribute your egg or sperm to create a baby, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you have an obligation to leave your name, address and phone number for that child to be able to reach you when they need to as an adult." Today, I su