Babies for the highest bidders

By Dawn MacKeen

Published January 24, 2001 10:24PM (EST)

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Money and greed are involved in all adoptions -- private, agency, domestic, international and even faith-based. Adoption is just a nice way of saying "buying babies."

The entire system needs federal and international regulation and overhaul. If the balance sheets were held up to the light of day, I would bet most would show how profit-driven adoption has become around the world.

-- Molly Spira

Aw, c'mon. Dawn MacKeen tries to shock her readers by stating any person with any type of background can broker the adoption of a baby.

So? Anyone with any kind of background can have a baby.

It's the new millennium. Life, including organs, DNA and babies, is for sale to the highest bidder.

Yawn. So what else is new? Seen any good movies lately?

-- Janean Marti

Normally, I don't get too upset over the bias shown by various authors, published in Salon or elsewhere, because I understand that we all have our biases and we're all only human. However, Dawn MacKeen's article begged the question: Was it simple bias or sloppy investigative work?

There is a lot of abuse in the adoption industry as it's run in the United States, and it's not limited to private adoption facilitators. Don't forget: Public agencies charge for their services too, and they must justify their budgets every year or risk being closed down. In fact, the reason so many adoptions in the U.S. are done privately these days is that birth mothers aren't standing for the abuse they've found in the public agencies.

Perhaps the most egregious misstep in MacKeen's article, however, is the implication that private adoption facilitators are not licensed by the state in which they operate. Perhaps California does not regulate its private adoption facilitators, but Arizona does, and so do many other states. In addition, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children -- which is the ruling body of law when an adoption crosses state lines -- not only insists on licensed adoption facilitators but also has quite stringent rules on the checking of prospective adoptive parents.

Public and private adoptions really aren't as dissimilar as MacKeen's article suggests. You can get a lot more information from adoptive parents, birthparents and adoptees than you will ever find speaking to heads of national organizations who have public reputations to keep.

-- Name withheld

I was distressed by your clear implication that private adoption is almost always baby selling. Private adoptions in some form are legal in most states, but many have laws governing them, and require more than an attorney, a fee and a judge as you claim. Many have restrictions on the amount of expenses permitted to be paid to birthparents.

Each state has a different waiting period in which a birth mother may change her mind about making her adoption placement. California's is six months as I understand it, the longest in the nation, so all adoptions are tentative for that period. A birth mother changing her mind about whom she wants to adopt her baby within that time is perfectly legal. Maybe California really needs to revisit whether such a long waiting period is fair to birth mothers, adoptive parents or, especially, the child.

To make up for the perceptions of abuse within adoption, most states require adoptive parents to submit to mind-boggling degrees of documentation: Show us copies of your pet's vaccinations, your car insurance policy; sign this pledge never to spank your child, etc. That's in addition to the home study, fire inspection, safety inspection, tax returns, birth certificates, marriage certificate, health certificates including HIV and TB tests, employment verification, multiple criminal checks, fingerprints and personal references -- to name just the basics in my state. And then, the likelihood you'll be selected by a birth mom can be slim, or require a long, long wait. And we wonder why even perfectly "fit" adoptive parents might get frustrated and look for other options.

It's not any easier for birth mothers, looking through portfolios of available adoptive parents, having to make a decision based on a letter and a few photos. Private adoption in some cases is more popular with birth mothers because they can customize their adoption to their desired level of "openness" and can request contact with the child and the adoptive family. For a poor birth mother, it might be a significant issue to have a non-Medicaid doctor paid for, the hospital bills taken care of and maybe extra money to cover maternity clothes, prenatal vitamins and other expenses. Is it any wonder that in countries with socialized medicine or government-paid maternity leave, our method is seen as barbaric?

My husband and I are only just beginning the adoption process. If I had read your article before researching adoption, I would have made erroneous and entirely negative assumptions. I am very sorry that so many of your readers will believe that adoption is a tragic, immoral and unethical event, and that all adopted children are "bought." What a terrible burden for adopted children to grow up with.

-- Name withheld

Thank you, Salon, for your excellent coverage of this issue. I have been actively involved in adoption reform for nearly three decades. I am a past member of the board of directors for the American Adoption Association and join with Jane Nast and others in calling for an end to private adoption. My book, "Shedding Light on the Dark Side of Adoption," published in 1988, states that all adoptions need to be handled by agencies that are licensed and regulated and attempt to act in the child's best interest.

In private adoption, there is no accountability and no mandate for proper record keeping. Money is the only motivation, which is not in the best interest of anyone other than the baby broker. The babies, their original parents and both prospective and successful adoptive parents are all at risk for exploitation through shoddy, illegal practices that lead to broken hearts, financial ruin and overturned adoptions.

Putting caps on the amount charged for adoption "fees" has never worked. It's far too easy to get around these restrictions, calling the baby's price tag "housing" or "medical fees" for the birth mother. Money breeds corruption and needs to be removed totally from a child welfare issue. All private adoption should be illegal, as lawyers are not social workers. But this won't happen until we see adoption in the way it was intended -- as a means of finding homes for homeless children, not as a means of filling "desperate" arms. As long as we view babies as commodities in demand -- as opposed to seeing them as part of families in crisis -- we will continue to see them bought and sold to the highest bidders.

We need to put an end to the tight control attorneys have on this totally uncontrolled industry. We would not tolerate attorneys trafficking in drugs or prostitution; why do we tolerate the blatant selling of our precious and most innocent victims? I hope that this latest incident finally blows the lid off the problem.

-- Mirah Riben

As a parent from Ontario who privately adopted a newborn baby two and a half years ago in Kentucky, I was astonished to read about the corruption involved in private adoptions. My husband and I were scrutinized to within an inch of our lives, by both the provincial and the state governments, including extensive interviews, full disclosure of our finances and fingerprinting to ensure that we had no criminal record. There was also full disclosure of the birth parents' backgrounds. Kentucky law made it illegal for a broker, private agency or any other third party receiving a fee to be involved, and other than payment for the birth mother's medical expenses (which, thankfully, were mostly covered by her insurance) and legal fees, no money was allowed to change hands. It was a slow, frustrating and bureaucratically entangled process, but at the end of two months we came home with our beautiful son. I have no doubt that if every jurisdiction were as stringent as Ontario and Kentucky, there would be far less corruption -- and far less heartache.

-- Mindy Alter

By Salon Staff

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