May 27, 2010
Members of the Unsealed Initiative, a group that is working toward adoption reform, are hopeful that a proposed "bill of adoptee rights" will be passed this legislative session.
The adoptee bill of rights (S.5269/A.8410) would grant people who are adopted the right, upon their 18th birthday, to obtain an original or certified copy of their birth certificate and learn who their biological parents are. The legislation would also ensure adoptees have access to their family's medical history, if such records exists, as well as any other information birth relatives might choose to provide.
The bill would also allow birth parents the option making know their contact preference. Birth parents could either chose to allow contact, allow contact through an intermediary or indicate their preference not to be contacted. Birth parents would be able to rescind or revise their contact preference at any time.
"Way too many people out there who have been adopted need information. And they're not getting it," said David Koon, D-Perinton, the Assembly sponsor of the adoptees bill of rights.
Koon said he is concerned that adoptees who are unable to view a complete family history are at higher risk for developing genetic conditions. If an adoptee is allowed to view their family's history then they might be able to prevent illness, "especially with today's technology," he said.
New York sealed adoption records in 1935 due to social stigmas attached to being an adopted child. This subsequently sealed all records of the adoption process to all parties involved. All adoptees thereafter were unable to view their own birth certificates or receive any information regarding their family's medical history.
"The whole climate has changed because our issue has become more mainstream. We're more accepted," said Joyce Behr, president of the Unsealed Initiative. According to Behr, the adoptee bill of rights was first introduced in 1993. Since then the bill has been introduced in both houses of the Legislature but has seen little movement.
Though New York adoptee records have never been unsealed, in 1983 the state created an Adoption Information Registry that allows adoptees to obtain nonidentifying information about their birth parents.
The nonidentifying information that adoptees can obtain includes general appearance, race, education and occupation. An individual can only receive indentifying information if both parties have registered with the Adoption Information Registry and both have consented to the release of their information.
Birth parents can also supply medical and psychological information to the registry. That information can be obtained by an adoptee who registers with the registry. Any medical updates must be certified by a licensed health care provider.
The registry cannot provide adoptees with their original birth certificate or adoption records.
Several states have recently opened adoption records including Delaware, Tennessee and, most recently, Maine, according to a statement prepared by Unsealed Initiative.
The legislation was referred to the Senate Health Committee at the beginning of the year, and reported to the Assembly Codes Committee on May 11.