- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Danika Donatti first met her biological father when he was in hospice dying from complications of a disease she might also carry.

Donatti, 18, was adopted shortly after birth. She has known the names of her biological parents since childhood, but she didn’t try to form a relationship with them until she learned her biological father was fighting cancer and spinocerebellar ataxia type 6, a rare genetic disorder that degrades muscle control and that she had a 50 percent chance of inheriting.

“I could have this and I wouldn’t have known that had I not had my birth certificate,” she recently told The Associated Press.

Missouri is one of more than 31 states that restrict adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, according to the American Adoption Congress, a group advocating expanding such access. Adoptees can only obtain their original birth certificates through a court order; they can access their adoption file, which can contain identifying information, if their biological parents give their permission or die. If the parents cannot be found, the information remains sealed.

Legislation scheduled to be voted upon Tuesday by a Missouri House committee would change that. The proposed Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, sponsored by Rep. Don Phillips, would open access to original birth certificates to adoptees when they turn 18.

The current law creates hardships for adoptees that should not exist under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, said Phillips, a Republican from the southwestern Missouri town of Kimberling City. “It doesn’t say, P.S., by the way adoptees, sorry about your bad luck but you’re not included.”

After an adoption is finalized, a court amends the child’s birth certificate to list the adoptive family as the parents. An adoptee doesn’t need consent to retrieve non-identifying information about his or her biological parents - which can include a medical history, if it was provided at the time of birth.

The current arrangement protects the confidentiality of the birth mother, said Laura Long, and it would be wrong to change the terms of that agreement retroactively.

Long, who is an adoptee, works as a confidential intermediary for people seeking their biological parents’ permission to release their identifying information. Many parents consent, she said, but there are also many who were traumatized by the experience of getting pregnant and placing their child for adoption. People still feel stigmatized by that, she said, and it’s still a secret for some.

“What do I tell a birth mom who says, ‘You can’t release my name, it would be devastating for me,” Long asked.

Supporters and critics of the bill agree that searching for adoption records in some counties can be difficult.

The unreliability of those adoption files are why adoptees should have access to their birth certificates, said Heather Dodd of the Missouri Adoptee Rights Movement. State-maintained birth certificates are more dependable than counties’ adoption files, she said.

Long said some smaller counties are ill-equipped to conduct a thorough search for biological parents, especially if the information on file is decades old. Long said she’s encountered cases where the birth mother used an alias or listed a temporary address. Only a few cases are so opaque, she said, but they demonstrate how strongly some parents feel about remaining anonymous.

It’s unrealistic to expect anonymity in the era of social media, Dodd said.

“We have countless people holding signs (in pictures) on Facebook … stating all their basic information,” Dodd said. “They’re finding themselves desperate because they’re not getting answers through the state.”

The state should respect the wishes of parents who agreed to adoption because of its confidentiality, said Tyler McClay, general counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference, which opposes the bill. He said a better model is Illinois, which has made identifying documents available to adoptees unless the biological parents opt out.

Donatti said that even if the state allows adoptees to learn who their birth parents were when they turn 18, it doesn’t mean they invariably will seek them out. Her first meeting with her biological mother was a chance encounter at a store when she was about five years old, she said, and they didn’t have another conversation until their trip to the hospice care facility.

Donatti said her father died about two months after that first meeting. But before that, she was able to visit him on her way to her senior prom to take pictures together.

“That’s something I’ll always be able to hold onto,” she said. “You only have so much time before your birth parents - your parents in general - are gone.”

___

The Missouri Adoptee Rights Act is HB 1599

___

Online:

House: http://www.house.mo.gov/

___

Follow Adam Aton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdamAton

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide