From the NYT Ethicist column

26 Oct

“The Son My Sister Placed for Adoption Wants to Find Her. What Should I Do?”

My youngest sister had a baby when she was an unmarried teenager. This was some decades ago, when abortion laws and misguided morality made things difficult for someone who was pregnant and unmarried. She told me she was pregnant, and though I encouraged her to tell our parents, she decided to conceal her condition by wearing larger-size clothes. When she gave birth at the hospital to a healthy boy, our mother talked her into having the baby adopted. My sister signed the adoption papers with the proviso that her identity as the mother not be revealed to the child. A few years later, she married. She and her husband have a daughter, but while her husband knows about the adopted son, I don’t believe their daughter does.

Further down…

Do I have a moral obligation to tell my sister about this situation? Do you think she would want to know that he is married and has children? Should her daughter know she has a brother?

From me, yes, you have a moral obligation to your sister to tell her that her son has reached out and is interested in knowing his family, also, based on the timeline, she likely didn’t include a proviso of her identity being kept secret, that was simply what the norm was then.

The baby, now adult adoptee wants to meet his Mother and reached out to his uncle. Based on the abortion comment, it was pre-Roe, so a Baby Scoop Era adoptee. The Ethicist didn’t do a poor job in response, but for goodness sakes, this man should just call his sister or go see her. There have been countless reunions from this era, the sky didn’t fall, don’t stand in the way of a child and mother reunion.

What I did take exception to is below from the Ethicist…

“All things being equal, I’ll grant, an open or semi-open adoption is preferable to a closed one. I recognize that this man may have lost something of value in not knowing who his birth mother was. I accept that facts about ancestry regularly play an important role in the personal identities people develop. That a resource is important, however, doesn’t mean that you are damaged without it. Almost all the facts about your biological family that shape your identity can be substituted for by an adoptive family; what can’t are facts about the experience of people you believe resemble you for genetic reasons. But you can develop a proper identity perfectly well without those facts. Some well-adjusted adopted children simply have no interest in their biological ancestors.”

“Once a safe adoptive family had been secured for her son, in my view, your sister was entitled to foreclose further interaction and keep her identity from her offspring. The point of adoption, it seems to me, is that your family identity becomes that of your adoptive family. Besides, this man’s identity is already pretty much fixed. Even if he had been wronged by being deprived of knowledge about his biological kin when growing up, that wrong wouldn’t be set right by supplying the knowledge now.”

I’ve talked about ancestry here many times; I love working on Dad’s tree, Mom’s not as much but that’s because Dad told far more stories about his kin, so I knew who they were and what type of people they were. I’ve also noted here that working on my own maternal and paternal trees are harder because I lack those stories that create the connections, the lack the knowledge that makes me just know that link is accurate. But the Ethicist is wrong, at least for me, my identity and sense of self is woven from all my family, if I’d never been able to know who my mother and father were, who my relatives and ancestors were, I’d still be missing the knowledge that made me okay with me, being me. It’s hard for me to put into words but I struggled being an only, Mom and Dad were my family, but they weren’t my kin, my identity and my sense of self needed to know my kin, something that mom and dad could never give me, they would have if they could have, but couldn’t.

The Son My Sister Placed for Adoption Wants to Find Her. What Should I Do?


Posted by on October 26, 2021 in Uncategorized


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14 responses to “From the NYT Ethicist column

  1. andestanley

    October 27, 2021 at 2:19 am

    Makes me so angry when people give replies like the ethicists. Ugh

    Liked by 4 people

    • TAO

      October 30, 2021 at 2:33 pm

      You and me both. There’s a rash of posts similar to his with adoption as the subject, all poor people who weren’t adopted…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. BOOKS: Sexual Assault, Loss

    October 27, 2021 at 2:41 am

    How can this ethicist speak about something he or she has not experienced? Did the ethicist ask a random sample of a large number of adoptees if not knowing is ok? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Heather

    October 27, 2021 at 11:06 am

    The Ethicist wrote “All things being equal, I’ll grant …” blah blah blah.

    Who is he to even write something so callous?
    Why do people who have no experience in adoption feel they can contribute with such certainty?

    Also his view that the mother was entitled to “keep her identity from her offspring”. Really? And what was that offspring entitled to? Anything??

    Just ugh

    Liked by 4 people

    • TAO

      October 30, 2021 at 2:31 pm

      Pretty much my response, one of those times I wanted to throw my coffee mug at the wall.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. beth62

    October 30, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    “this man’s identity is already pretty much fixed. Even if he had been wronged by being deprived of knowledge about his biological kin when growing up, that wrong wouldn’t be set right by supplying the knowledge now.”

    I believe any persons identity is ever changing, as they gain knowledge, change, grow and age.
    Unless it just happens to people who were adopted?…

    I’d like to think if I was not adopted, I would still have learned, grown and changed so much by discovering and researching the ancestry of all of my parents. including my adoptive parents. My sense of identity is grand. Before I did any research… I was lost in the wilderness. There was so much about my peoples identities that I could not identify. If I couldn’t make sense of all of them, how on earth could I make sense of me?

    Genetics and Epigenetics are very real and apparant to me now. I just realized while typing that – how long and hard I’ve worked to discover this info. And how it used to be an important big undone project for me, nature vs nurture, and now it’s pretty much done. And how better I feel about myself due to it all. So… I’m just gonna sit here and grin for a while 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • BOOKS: Sexual Assault, Loss

      October 30, 2021 at 7:03 pm

      Beth, love, love, love your reply. Knowledgeable! And so well stated. You have not only lived it, you have “done your homework.”

      Genetics is fascinating to many of us. Millions of people are looking into their DNA. Genealogical research is a big thing. Now, more than ever, people want to know their roots. Non-adopted people know their parents, siblings, grandparents, etc., but they want to know more! An adopted person’s life is like they were dropped out of the sky. To not have curiosity about biological background is a sign of great repression! Rationalization plays a part too — seems the ethicist is guilty of that.

      Again, thanks Beth for encapsulating the whole argument for having genetic information. Another point you made: A person’s identity is ever-changing. You point out that you have grown! I know from your other posts, it was hard-won; but your life is better now than when you were in the dark.

      Here’s an example of a changed identity: Becoming a mom changes one’s identity. For most people, that is a positive change in one’s identity, as long as you don’t become a “non-mom” afterward.

      Think about a woman who surrenders her child. That is a monumental change in her self-identity. As Lorraine Dusky stated in her first book: “I would always be a mom who gave away her child.” It is soul-destroying, I believe.

      Liked by 2 people

      • beth62

        November 1, 2021 at 12:48 pm

        I think identity is one of those words, it involves much.
        My puzzle of identity, as an Adoptee with no identifying information of their entire family of birth, was all about which piece of me fit in which part of the puzzle. I spent a lot of time thinking on where I got this from, where I got that from, and why, and what pieces could be just me…
        Until I learned more of both of my dads and both of my moms, who they were, who their people were, and why they were like they were, I couldnt piece it all together in me.
        Now I can. And so many of the long thought about things of me, I can see plainly where it came from, and how it became part of me too. Be it heredity or environment.

        Events shape our identities too, greatly imo. It’s all alot to think about, I’m just so happy I’ve managed to whittle it down quite a bit for myself. Cause I am still working on adding being a grandma to my identity 🙂 and trying to loose a few talents and activities of the young and spry that I’ve been clinging to, a big part of my identity, but not so much a part of it anymore. Always changing.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Heather

      October 30, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      The idea that anyone’s “identity is already pretty much fixed” is just so depressing and sad to me. I want to grow and learn and change my entire life.

      Liked by 2 people

      • beth62

        November 1, 2021 at 12:20 pm

        Depressing and sad to me too. My defiant inner child takes it as a dare LOL We intend to grow and change for eternity.

        “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.”
        -Louis L’Amour

        Liked by 2 people

  5. beth62

    November 1, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    “Do you think she would want to know that he is married and has children? Should her daughter know she has a brother?”

    Argh. What mother wouldn’t want to know? (I know they are out there, but rare) What sister wouldn’t want to know, (or should know to keep her kids from dating their cousins)

    The whole protective thing drives me nuts, it’s rarely of benefit, yet it continues in full force for some reason.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TAO

      November 1, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      The post in the NYT got my dander up, then there was another post similar to this elsewhere, and now, all I want to do is through my coffee mug at the wall, except it has coffee I want to drink in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Cindy

    November 4, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    “well-adjusted”? “well-adjusted”? Uh-huh, ok. So all the others …aren’t?

    Simple answer to the question. Get the h___ out of the way. It’s nobody’s business but mother and child’s.

    SMH. The ‘ethicist’ is clueless. (just my opinion)

    Liked by 2 people


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