Thursday 20 October 2011

Part One-And-A-Half: Disclaimers

Before I posted Part One of my map of adoption ethics, I thought: 'hmmmm, I should probably include a few disclaimers on this thing'. And then I my husband hollered 'It's midnight! Switch the light out so I can sleep!' so I said 'Okay, Okay' and clicked 'publish' instead.

Turns out I should have taken the time to write the disclaimers. So here they are now:

Firstly: I'm looking at international adoption. I should have specified. One thing I was going to say in part 2 that I'll say now instead - yes, I think that the wall in US domestic adoption is pretty much non-existent, and I can't imagine that is a good thing. It seems to me that coercion in domestic adoption is a HUGE issue, at least potentially. I recoil from the idea of an international PAP showing off their perfect life with the intention of persuading a mother to relinquish her child. I think that's unspeakably unethical. But it seems that similar things happen every day with domestic adoption. I have to admit, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable this makes me. But I don't live in the US, and we have zero non-foster-care domestic adoption here so I am a long, long way from being an expert on that scene. Hence, it wasn't what I was writing about. That doesn't mean I don't think it's important (see below....!) it just means that it wasn't what I was addressing.

Secondly: I know it's possible to take the polarised positions of 'Adoption is inherently good; everybody should adopt!' or 'Adoption is inherently bad; it should never happen at all' but I don't take either of these positions. (Disclaimer-within-a-disclaimer: of course I think that we should be trying to do away with the reasons that so many adoptions happen. But thinking that we need to fix the problems that lead to adoption is a very different thing from saying that adoption itself - as a response - should never happen. More on this in part two. Honestly). If you do take either of these positions, that's fine, but it's probably going to help to be clear from the outset that we are coming at this discussion from very, very different places.

As soon as we remove those polarised extremes, and say that adoption is neither always good nor always bad, what is it? I think the answer is this: adoption is complicated. I mean complicated. I mean really really complicated. To really get into all these complexities, to really grind out the details of what ethical adoption means, it would take at least a whole book. And believe me, I would love to read that book. But I am not trying to write that book in two blog posts. What I'm trying to talk about is the basics. The bare minimum. The bird's eye view. The broad brush-strokes. The bits of adoption ethics that are not complicated. The bits of adoption ethics that should be absolutely non-negotiable.

There are two reasons I'm not writing about the complexities. Firstly: I have twin toddlers. I have limited time. As they nap, I'm typing this with one hand while I eat my lunch with the other. (Slow-cooker corn soup. Delicious. Want the recipe? Put 2 pounds of frozen corn into your slow cooker with a chopped onion and a chopped potato and about two pints of vegetable stock. Cook. Blend. Serve with chipotle hot sauce, if you've got it. Freezes well. Doubles easily. You're welcome). But the more fundamental reason is that when we start talking complexities, there are lots of legitimate disagreements.  I think that a lot of the time, conversations about adoption ethics get derailed because we start talking about the complexities before we have agreed on the fundamentals.  I'm not saying the complexities aren't important - I think they are extremely important - but the complexities are not what I'm trying to write about here. I'm trying to write about the fundamentals.  Like I said - the bare minima. Again with the birds eye view. Again with the point about the broad brush-strokes. And for me, the number one fundamental in ethical adoption should be that (all together now....) the people who benefit from adoption should not get a say in deciding who gets adopted. 

So - I'm not trying to be complex. There are about a million things I haven't addressed. A few were raised in the comments on the last post, and a few have been addressed to me privately or mentioned in other fora*. Mostly the discussion has been polite and thoughtful and I really (really) appreciate that. But  I do feel the need to say - the fact that I haven't written about a particular thing  in one half of a broad overview doesn't mean that I don't think it is important. If you think it is important, it doesn't mean that I disagree with you. It doesn't mean I don't care about that thing.  Please believe me - I am not trying to say that this map of a wall** is all there is to say on ethical adoption. Per-leeze. I'm not that stupid. It's just some stuff that I think is important. In fact, I think it's foundational. That doesn't mean that I think it's the floors and doors and windows as well. Would you mind giving me the benefit of the doubt on that one? Thanks. (I know that 99% of you already do that, and I'm really grateful). 

Does that last paragraph make me sound a little bit peevish? Sorry, I guess I am. It does grate my cheese a little when people read 'I think Thing X is important' and respond with 'I can't believe you didn't mention Y!' when actually, I love Y, I think Y is hotter than Justin Beiber***, it's just not what I was trying to say when I was talking about X. Seriously - if you want to know my opinion on Y, all you have to do is ask. Preferably politely. And we can discuss! Discussion is great. I love respectful discussion. I have no issues with honest, thoughtful, polite disagreement either. But I have less patience for when people make assumptions or talk unkindly or rudely on the internet in a way that they would never do in real life . It makes me feel like this

Thirdly. One thing that a few people have asked - and most very politely - is why children aren't on the map. That's a very fair question, and one that I wondered about as I was drawing it. Initially I felt like of course, children should be there somewhere because adoption should put the interests of children first. However, in the end I didn't include them on this particular schema because generally, children aren't making any of the decisions in adoption. The map is really a map of decision-making, of action, of who-is-doing-what. And when 'adopt' is used as a verb, children are always the object, not the subject, of the sentence. They aren't making any choices. So that's why they're not on the map - because they are not making choices about adoption, not because I don't think they are important in how those choices should be made. In, fact, their powerlessness is the main reason we should be working hard for an ethical process. I should have been explicit about this.

I think that's it with the disclaimers. I hope so, because I can hear thumps - I think naptime is over.

*possibly my favourite plural of all time
**and there's another structure coming in the next post, can you bear the suspense?
***Joke. I think Justin Beiber is creepy. Obviously. I was in Claire's earlier today buying earmuffs for my kids and was utterly weirded out by just HOW MUCH STUFF you can buy with JB's face on it, mostly for under a pound. Ewww. 


  1. You are much braver than I.

    Some of the responses you received are good examples of why I avoid 'charged' topics (on blogs, social networks and in life).

    The comments where people had questions, suggestions, they felt differently on a certain point (and made their argument in a respectful way), etc are good. Those are the types of things that foster good discussions. Hard discussions about hard things where people learn from each other and together learn things none of them had previously known.

    Then there are the "Your opinion is different than mine so you must be stupid!" types. It's almost like they write their opinions on a 2x4 so they can beat them into others. Which is not to say they are always wrong. Some of them might be absolutely right. However, since they hit people with their ideas rather than laying out logical arguments, it's very hard to actually have a conversation. It's even harder to learn from them. Which is unfortunate.

    Anyhow, kudos to you for being brave enough to publicly discuss one of the tough topics in a public fashion. It's definitely appreciated because it's given me quite a bit to think about.

  2. I can not wait to read Part One-and-three-quarters. And, please, what is your opinion on Z? You haven't mentioned Z and it is important and possibly hotter than Beiber.

  3. Semiferal, I thought maybe the next post could be one point five point two, like the new version of a software release. Obviously, I'm going to have to start charging for these upgrades. Heh.

  4. GIRL, you are on FIRE with this post. You managed to squeeze in not only "minima" but also "fora," and for that you have my immense admiration. I do love a grammatically fine blog post -- and it even includes a recipe. Well done, you.

    I read, and silently applauded, your last post before there were any comments on it -- sounds like I need to click over there and see what's going on!

  5. I've said it before and I'll say it again- perhaps I should say it in previous posts comments but whatev-

    When we start down the line of debating whether or not 1st families have the right to chose adoption or not- we have moved from discussing ethical into personal morality decisions. (again assuming all other players are in their zone) This in one that we will ALL disagree with in some shape or another.

    Claudia- I applaud your time and efforts in defining a complicated issue. Thank you.

  6. sorry- that should read- moved from discussing ethical adoption into personal morality decisions...

  7. I love you, Claudia! That's what I think! You rock. Thank you for thinking (and writing) about the hard stuff.

  8. What I want to know is if you can buy earmuffs with Justin Bieber's face on them. Or earmuffs that would allow you to look like Justin Bieber?

    On a more serious note, I am glad you are writing about this, and I am sorry that you must write an entire post just to add disclaimers. I am very much looking forward to part two and the subsequent disclaimers.

  9. I just wanted to add that I think your original map does provide at least a starting point for discussing domestic private adoption. Of course not all the players fit neatly into each spot on your map, but then they don't for many IA programs as well. When one compares the laws surrounding private domestic adoption in Canada versus those in the USA you can actually see where attempts have and have not been made to build the wall.

    Starting from the principle that "the people who benefit from adoption should not get a say in deciding who gets adopted" (truer words have never been spoken by the way) the challenge I was finding with locating people on the map for various IA and domestic programs was defining exactly what we mean by "benefiting from adoption".


  10. I loved the first post (though it always makes me anxious anxious anxious) and loved this one and am now (anxiously) awaiting the next one ....

  11. Great posts on ethics, but I'm really just commenting to say I plan to try that corn soup recipe!

  12. From the sound of it, you must have gotten to the grocery store to buy some more corn. :)

  13. Glad you did this. Look forward to part II and trying the soup. Totally vegan. Love it!

  14. We have domestically adopted twice and I would agree that the wall is not very clear. We went a couple different routes. But by far, I think for infant adoption , the most ethical option are pregnancy care centers that first and foremost provide care for the expectant mother. Then, if this mom wants to pursue adoption, she is offered extensive counseling WAY before she views profile books. And then if she does choose adoption- which tends to be much less common because she has many resources through the center to encourage parenting- she has a birthparent counselor who is solely on her side. The adoptive parents have a totally separate adoptive parent coordinator representing them, to keep things clear. I wish this model was ALOT more common. Unfortunately, the big agency approach where it seems everyone is on the same side of the wall is much more normative.

  15. Wow. I left for a week and look at these amazing posts--are these going to be part of your book? So much to think about. So, so, so much. Thanks for posting. Looking forward to part 3.

  16. "I think that a lot of the time, conversations about adoption ethics get derailed because we start talking about the complexities before we have agreed on the fundamentals" -- I think I'm falling in love with you.


Over to you!