The Ethics of Relinquishment and Adoption: How Can We Make it

American Adoption Congress
March 2010
 How I came to this topic:
 Adoption Meeting November 2009
 Juno
 Senator Gordon Smith’s son’s suicide 2004
 Haiti Adoptions
 Adoption Meeting with Prospective parents
 Marie Osmond’s Son’s Death
 We continue to be afraid as a culture to disrupt what we
identify as a “normal” form of family known as adoption
 We have changed what the meaning of “normal family is”
so we hesitate to question others about adoption because
we aren't sure ourselves
 We struggle to feel connected in the families we are a part
of and so we look for the “feel good” solution and get angry
at those who challenge it
 We want to feel good about our decision to place and/or our
active involvement in the act of placement .
Some Examples
 Your Caucasian neighbors adopt a Chinese baby girl
and change her name to “Jennifer.” You are an adoptee
and feel uncomfortable about this but cannot bring
yourself to say “Congratulations” while the other
neighbors laud over how cute she is.
 You are a birthmother sitting in an adoption agency
office and wonder if with a little support maybe you
could keep your baby, but the caseworker is talking on
and on, with a smile on her face, about the terrific
adoptive parents they have waiting for a baby “just like
yours.” You feel an obligation to follow through.
 ABC News is doing another “great adoption story” on 20/20
about a nice Iowa couple adopting their fifth child from
Haiti. They are seen holding the little boy who looks
shocked and sad in their arms at the airport. The parents
are smiling. The next day at work one of your coworkers
talks about this story, but you say nothing.
 Your friend’s 17 y/o daughter had her first child 9 months
ago, and now they are raising him at home. She just told
you she is pregnant again. The parents both work fulltime
while caring for the baby, but their daughter goes out at
night with friends. You feel ashamed of your judgmental
 A young couple ended up getting married after the
birthmother had already placed their baby in an open
adoption. She thought he wanted that too. They grieve for
the loss of their daughter every time they go for a visit but
feel like the legal deal was made and its too late to change
 A birthmother placed her son in a supposed open
adoption years ago, only the lawyer “lost” the agreement
and the parents moved away. Now, through the insistence
of her new lawyer, the adoptive parents have sent current
photos but with the threat they may sue her if she tries to
contact them.
 These examples exacerbate the problems generated in
a system of care mired in secrecy and unregulated
 These are all situations where adoption practice today
generates different ethical dilemmas as well as
opportunities for education and change.
 Sometimes these stories make us angry and bring up
renewed pain that hasn’t been resolved.
 Other times they call us to action or to say something
that surprises others around us.
What Can We Do?
 Who is here today?
 Whether a professional, birthmother, adoptee or
adoptive parent, we can all use the same ethical
guidelines to help us design a pathway for change.
 We are the people, WE who are sitting here today, who
know what needs to be done, why it should be done,
and how it should be done.
 And we have a moral and ethical obligation to do the
work of change- whether it be small or large in scope.
First things first
 To quote Dr. Ron Nydam- it is not just about adoption,
it is about relinquishment and adoption. This is
important to remember. If you get caught up in the
concept of adoption only you will get caught in the
business of placing children and bypass what they do
not want to be talked about and that is the
relinquishment- the separating of mother and childthe severing of ties-the loss of family of origin-the
unnatural severing of bonds-the incredible loss.
How Do We Do This?
 We can begin to interrupt the conversation.
 We can dare to educate on the spot, not later.
 We can speak without shame, speak with courage,
with bravery, with acknowledgement of what we know
and what we have yet to learn.
 We shape all that we say and do within the framework
of ethical intent and truth seeking
 And we do this work knowing we are not alone
 For the purpose of this talk, I am going to identify
some of the basic concepts of ethics and then tie those
to the policy and practice of relinquishment and
 I have complied my sources for the ethical portion
from a compilation of Codes of Ethics for professional
Meaning of Ethics
 Ethics pertains to the beliefs we hold about what
constitutes correct or moral conduct
 Ethical conduct is behavior that results from a
combination of knowledge and a clear set of guiding
principles underlying a code of ethics.
 In relinquishment and adoption, ethical conduct has
been widely misconstrued and interpreted under the
guise of a socially constructed view of adoption as
“normal family” formation without consideration the
lifelong impact of relinquishment.
Principle Ethics
 Principle Ethics focus on moral issues and resolves
ethical dilemma's within a particular set of guidelines
that frame behavior and thinking.
Relinquishment/Adoption example might be when a
birthmother changes her mind after giving birth and
decides not to place. The adoption agency would use a
set of guidelines to support her decision. The adoptive
family may need to use principle ethics to support this
difficult change.
Virtue Ethics
 Virtue Ethics focus more on the personal character
traits and non-obligatory ideas to which the person or
professional aspires than on specific ethical delimmas.
An example of this in relinquishment and adoption
might be where an adoptive parent knows that
allowing more contact with the birthmother is best for
their child even though it is difficult. Or another might
be a reunited birthmother not wanting to tell the
name of the birthfather but knowing it is important
that she does- more virtuous.
Virtuous Professionals
 Are typically motivated to do what is right for the right
reasons. In adoption, this would be to support the
birthparent’s right to parent first, including in the post
relinquishment period.
Possess compassion for all members of the adoption
Allow enough time for adoption decision making
Have a regard for all parties to the relinquishment and
adoption with sensitivity for their suffering
Possess self awareness with the capacity for self
observation – knowing when they are biased!
Other definitions
 Community Standards: which are what professionals
may actually do in a particular community which in
adoption we know can vary from Oregon to say Utah
or Texas
 Ethical Standards: are what a professional should do,
which again may vary in adoption based on who is
doing the adoption and where it is being done.
 Laws define what are minimum standards society will
tolerate and are enforced by the government.
Core Virtues in Ethical Decision
 Prudence: skill and judgment in the use of resources
the ability to govern with discipline
Integrity: firm adherence to a code of ethicsincorruptibility
Autonomy: self-directing freedom –the right of self
Fidelity: fidelity to obligations regarded as natural and
Veracity: a devotion to the truth
Steps in Ethical Decision Making
( Feminist Model)
 Recognize the problem
 Develop solutions
 Choose a solution
 Review the process and solution collaboratively
 Implement and evaluate the solution
 Continue reflection on the process
Steps in Ethical Decision Making
( Social Constructionist Model)
 Identify the problem
 Review relevant ethics codes
 Know applicable laws and regulations
 Obtain consultation
 Consider possible courses of action
 Consider possible consequences of various decisions
 Decide best course of action
Self Awareness
In the work of improving and changing the policy and
practice of relinquishment and adoption, we in adoption
reform all bring our own experience and story to the
That makes our own self awareness our personal
responsibility to be aware of and to be committed to not
having it interfere with the work at hand. For a lay
person, their personal experience can enhance their
work and be the driving force. For a professional person
it can both enhance or impede the work so it must be
managed carefully.
In Conclusion
 Interrupt the conversation
 Guide your work with principles, ethics, and truths
 Stay informed
 Proceed with courage
 Be self aware and self accountable

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