Monday, January 4, 2016

Its Time for Equal, Open Access to Birth Records

The legislature of my home state of Indiana will soon be considering a bill (SB91) to provide open access to birth records for all adoptees.  Currently, only those who were adopted after 1993 have access to their original birth certificates.  Those born before this date are in most cases only able to obtain a limited summary with non-identifying information.  Very few of these provide any medical details, and frequently the details provided are errors or flat-out falsehoods.

As a genetic genealogist  I primarily work on behalf of adoptees with closed adoption files seeking information regarding their parents and family medical history.  I have helped numerous Indiana adoptees identify their birth parents via their DNA records.  While consumer DNA testing has provided an exciting new method for some adoptees to finally answer their longstanding mysteries, it does not replace the need for an open adoption system in Indiana. 

My Indiana adoptee clients come to me because the current “non-identifying information” provided to adoptees falls woefully short of their needs.  First, almost no records contain medical information prior to the establishment of the Indiana Adoption Medical History Registry in 1986. In this regard, DNA testing provides a useful supplement for adoptees as it has the potential to provide a wealth of health related information.  However, this information would be greatly enhanced if the adoptees had the opportunity to learn further information regarding the health of their immediate family members.   For example, DNA testing can tell a person if they have genetic markers for an increased risk for certain cancers.  However, that risk is greatly magnified if someone in their immediate family experiences that type of cancer.  Thus DNA only provides a portion of the person’s health picture and must be supplemented with information regarding the person’s immediate family in order to obtain a complete picture of their health risks.

In addition, DNA testing isn’t equally available to all adoptees.  For some, the costs can be prohibitive.  Tests start at $99.00, but multiple tests are frequently needed, making the total cost easily several hundred dollars. DNA testing is also not yet widespread enough to be of use to all populations.  Minority populations are underrepresented in the databases of the commercial testing companies.  This makes it very difficult for persons of minority background to use testing as a method of finding information on the birth parents.  Many minority adoptees will likely have to wait many years before the databases include enough close relatives for them to find information on their birth family.

To me, the debate should not be over whether to allow adoptees’ access to their adoption records.  For many adoptees, DNA testing can provide that information, with certainty, right now.  Instead, the question should be how adoptees obtain this information.  I enjoy helping adoptees in their searches and subsequent reunions, but I wish it wasn’t such a difficult process for them.  Should these adoptees be forces to go through the long, expensive and highly technical process of DNA testing? Or should all adoptees be given the simple option of contacting the adoption registry if they so choose?  My hope is our legislature chooses to give all adoptees the right to equal open access to their adoption records.

If you're an Indiana resident, make your voice heard and contact your legislator regarding your support for SB91.  Find more information at Indiana HEAR, the Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records Project.


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  2. Great story. I would love to hear more about the work he does.