Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can't Get Enough Babies

E.J. Graff has a long, interesting (not to say disturbing) piece on RH Reality Check about international adoption. It's called The Lie We Love, because we all like to think that children in need of homes are out there, just waiting for loving adoptive parents. We can feel good about that story; caring parents rescue those far-off children and bring them home to a happier life.

Apparently it's not quite that simple. It never is, is it?

The piece details how countries will seem to have large numbers of healthy 'orphan' infants for adoption as long as citizens of Western nations like the U.S. are free to adopt them; but if regulations are tightened and adoption is made more difficult, you don't see anywhere near those numbers languishing in institutions. Those healthy infants are being cared for by someone once adoption isn't available, which makes the author wonder how orphaned they really were.

It appears that basically the presence of willing adoptive parents with cash to spend creates a market, which then produces a supply of babies that might or might not have been present before. Maybe parents are talked or pressured into giving up children they would otherwise have kept. Maybe they're deceived into signing papers they don't understand. Maybe the children are simply stolen. 

Regardless, the uncomfortable evidence suggests that we're buying babies. By being able and willing to pay amounts of money that are huge by local standards, people in developed nations cause adoptable babies to be found for them. Ah, the old demand and supply.

It's not a simple situation, of course. Adoptive parents genuinely, often desperately, want children. It's not their fault they want them, and not a bad quality in anyone to want to care for a child. And it's not as if they intentionally set out to purchase an infant, or know the potentially unsavory details (in those cases where details are unsavory: no doubt many adoption agencies operate under good, stringent policies to ensure these things don't happen).

One could also argue the children will have better lives--certainly they're likely to be better provided for materially--in the United States or Canada or Europe than in the poorer countries that have tended to provide adoptable babies. 

But other parents, the parents who gave birth to the children, may be losing them unfairly and cruelly and against their wishes. It's pretty hard to feel really comfortable with that.

The article reminded me of a book I read last year called The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Similar to some examples in the article, the book describes how Georgia Tann (whom author Barbara Bisantz Raymond, an adoptive parent herself, credits with inventing modern adoption) deceived women into giving up their children, paid nurses to tell parents their children were dead, and sometimes just plain kidnapped babies and gave them to other people.

It's probably unavoidably in the nature of adoption to get very deeply into a lot of complicated issues. Need and desire, finding joy in others' misfortunes, love and care and sorrow. Add in the profit motive, and it can get really uneasy.

I don't have any words of wisdom on the topic, or a pithy summary of my thoughts about this article and book...but they sure do make me think.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Thanks for publicizing this. We are have talked about international adoption in the past in this very same vein.

Adoption today is very much a seller's market.