You’ve seen it on T.V and public transit advertisements, heard about it on the radio, and chances are from more than one of your friends. Since DNA testing has been made widely available and (relatively) inexpensive, it’s changed the way Americans think about their genetic history.
It’s changed the search and reunion for adoptees and birth parents even more.
Read on to learn how DNA testing has changed the search and reunion process for those in closed adoptions, how The Cradle can provide guidance during these searches, and some possible ethical concerns.
New changes, new possibilities
Since 2010, adult adopted people and some birth parents in Illinois and a few other states have had the ability to request an original birth certificate. Some have been able to utilize search services like The Cradle’s post-adoption support services and The Confidential Intermarry Service of Illinois since the mid 80’s. But, the release of the original birth certificate and the recent rise of DNA testing services like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have empowered adopted people and birth family members to find birth relatives on their own whether they registered with a search service or not.
Connection services through an adoption agency or state search program can only bring those together who have agreed to be connected. Birth parents who wish to remain anonymous can request to not be sought out have their information be redacted from original birth certificates. And, if found through a search, they can relay to an intermediary that they are not open to connecting. However, DNA services connect all genetically-related people, which has changed the level of privacy previously afforded to birth parents. If a birth parent’s relative is registered with a DNA service, the service can match the relative with an adoptee, and together they can sometimes identify a birth parent’s identity.
“It has opened up doors that were previously closed,” says Nina Friedman, director of post adoption support at The Cradle. When adopted people or birth family members meet for a post-adoption informational consultation – a meeting with Nina in which they discuss options for learning about the types of information and services available – when applicable, DNA testing is mentioned.
But, since testing kits are available in many stores and for order online, many adopted people and/or their descendants looking for information about their family and genetic history can do so on their own, without the help of the state or an adoption agency. Nina, hopes more people who choose this option, or even who choose to search on their own following receipt of an original birth certificate, know that The Cradle’s post-adoption services is here as a support.
“A connection is more than just making the connection. Emotions are involved, a new relationship may develop, and new information is being incorporated into one’s life. There can be a lot to process, on either side. The connection can be wonderful and difficult at the same time,” she says. “We want people to know that we are available for support.”
An ethical dilemma
DNA testing has changed more than just how an adopted people or birth family members can search. It’s also changed the conversation around ethical searching and prompted a contentious national debate.
Searches done with the help of a registry or adoption agency can come up empty or reveal that a birth parent doesn’t want to be found. At this point, should adopted people continue their search using these new DNA tools? Should they be allowed to reveal an adoption and potentially force a connection with someone who doesn’t want to be found?
It’s a question that doesn’t have an answer, says Nina. Advocates argue that the concept of privacy has changed, and adopted people should be able to connect with their siblings, cousins and other relatives if they can – especially if those relatives want to connect with the adopted person. They ask, “Wouldn’t you want to know if you had a sibling?”
On the other hand, many argue that birth parents should be allowed a basic respect and right to privacy. Their decision was one of the hardest that anyone will ever have to make, and if they request anonymity, their child should respect and understand that. Maybe they never told their family, and a search result on 23andMe can be a very painful way to reveal their history to their relatives.
Choosing to search for birth relatives via DNA analytics is a decision that remains up to the adoptee. Says Nina, there is no true right or wrong answer.
No matter which decision you make, The Cradle is here to provide guidance and support. If you're just starting to look for information or if you've already submitted your DNA kit, we can help. Learn more about our post-adoption services or schedule an information consultation today.