Sunday, November 7, 2010

David Phelps Letter to Speaker Silver

Dear Speaker Silver,

My name is David Phelps. I am a New York adoptee. I was adopted in Rochester in 1960. I was placed through the North Haven agency. I am writing to you today in support of A8410/S5269 , the New York Adoption Records Reform bills. I feel that the time has come, indeed is long past, for New York to open its adoption records.

The question of opening New York’s adoption records is an important one for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there is the matter of basic human dignity. All human beings have a birthright, a right to know their origins, the circumstances of their birth. Happily, this is the case in Western Europe, Australia and six U.S. States.

Second, one must realize that not having vital information about oneself is actually harmful in many ways. May I tell you about my adoptive brother Doug? Doug passed away this summer. He died of a heart attack at the age of 51. This was the second heart attack he had had, the first coming in his early forties. At the time of his first heart attack, his doctors of course asked him if he had a family history of heart disease. What could he say? He was adopted. He had no legal right to any family medical history. All he could say was “I don’t know.” In fact the doctors told him that he must have had a family history of heart problems because he wouldn’t have suffered an attack at that age without a genetic predisposition. Now imagine if Doug had known this from an early age. Don’t you think he would have taken precautions? Don’t you think that knowledge would have made a profound impact on his medical treatment and lifestyle choices? I firmly believe that Doug would still be alive today if he had had this vital knowledge. Did the sealed records system kill him? Is that too strong a word? It certainly was at the very least an unnecessary obstacle to his health and well being.

Doug never searched for his birth family, though he wanted to. The sealed records system that we both grew up with conditioned us to think that searching was a sign of maladjustment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only in the last few years was he becoming aware of the great injustice New York has foisted upon an entire class of its own citizens. Imagine if the state decreed tomorrow that all newborn females or minorities were forbidden to know their original identities. It sounds ridiculous, yet this is exactly what New York has done to those born out of wedlock and placed for adoption within its borders. Why?

In 2005, I searched for and found my original family and identity. No one has been harmed by my doing so. I have wonderful new relationships with my birth siblings, though my birthparents have both passed. These are relationships I should have had for decades. I have missed the chance of knowing by birth parents because New York has diligently maintained its closed adoption system of secrets and lies. I am sure that if the records had been open I would have searched much earlier. Try to imagine for one moment being prevented by law from knowing your own flesh and blood, the very people from whom you sprang. For the non adopted, as one adoptee has said, it is like asking the sighted to imagine the darkness of the blind.

So the cause is just. History is on our side. Just this month the state of Western Australia issued a public apology to birth mothers and adoptees for the harsh practices of the past. Indeed, I believe the closed records system is a barbarism of the 20th century which sadly still lingers on in some places in the 21st. Please support A8410/S5269 .


David Phelps