The foreign-adoption wars faced off across a new battle line Wednesday with the news of the Chinese government's plans to change the eligibility standards for adoptive parents, including limitations based on weight, medical history, age and marital status. As reported in the New York Times, the new restrictions spring from the boom in applications from foreigners and the waning availability of healthy babies.
The new regulations have invited a contentious array of opinions. In addition to the natural disappointment of the many would-be parents who may now be ineligible, the new rules have unleashed a larger conversation about international adoption, gender equality and what constitutes an appropriate parent. The media coverage has played on the mean-girl philosophy behind the new rules. The Boston Herald's headline nailed it: "Fat and Ugly Can't Adopt From China: New Regs Block Would-Be Parents." On the Times reader forum, the article attracted nearly 150 responses -- some disparaging the perceived Chinese predilection for "saving face" and lying about the country's problem of abandoned baby girls. "The rules are just a public relations ploy to counter the impression that Chinese girls are dumped into orphanages because their parents wanted a boy baby," wrote one reader. Others lambasted critics of the new policy as insensitive imperialist Americans behaving as if the whole world were their midwife. "America, after all, considers itself a vastly superior nation able to impose capricious regulations upon these backward countries. Now, another country is imposing rules upon Americans and Americans are outraged," another reader challenged.
For the thousands of gay families who have adopted or planned to become parents via Chinese adoption, the new regulations that may exclude them no doubt leave a bad taste. But the new restrictions -- which go into effect May 1, 2007 -- go much farther than insisting that adoptive parents be married couples; they offer a mirror of America's visage as seen by another country.
The new regs specify what kind of married couples prospective parents should be. Newlyweds are out, and first marriages need to have lasted for two years before couples can apply. Couples in second or third marriages need to have been together for five years. Finally, the sum total of divorces in a couple's past cannot exceed two. The regulations also lower the ages of the applicants -- both parents must be at least 30 but no more than 50. In a country like the U.S., where the divorce rate is high and people are waiting later and later to have children, these regulations seem to be a tailor-made critique of modern commitment problems.
The new medical standards also suggest that the Chinese don't share our belief in the wonders of psychopharmacology. In addition to barring applicants with infectious diseases (like AIDS), disabilities (as in serious physical handicaps) and illnesses (like cancer), the policy disallows adoptions to anyone on antidepressants! (Doesn't this eliminate a good portion of the country's graduates of liberal arts colleges?) And in addition to barring the neurotic American professional, the policy also seems to warn off another American stereotype: the fat person. The regulations bar anyone with a body-mass index of more than 40.
The new regulations also seem to endorse the virtues of working for a living. At least one parent must have a stable job that provides for the family income -- early Wall Street retirees, for instance, or folks whose income comes from a fat settlement against, say, Morgan Stanley need not apply. Also, since the regulations bar those with a net worth of less than $80,000, they likely exclude plenty of those great American dreamers: new homeowners. As one reader put it, "How are people supposed to have a net worth of $80k if they have a mortgage?" Finally, the Mia Farrows of the world should take their private orphanage fantasies elsewhere: Parents may not have more than five children including the adopted child.
In the ever more diverse world of modern families -- married, single, divorced, blended, two mommies, two daddies, coparenting pals -- one of the most prevalent has become the family completed by adopting a Chinese girl. In my neck of the urban woods, these families have tended to be drawn from just the populations that the Chinese would now exclude: older boomers, single mothers by choice and lesbian couples in abundance. It's a shame these populations won't be included in the pool of potential adoptive parents, but the new regulations -- however misguided in some of their details -- may actually be a sign of some positive developments for little Chinese girls. According to Research-China.org, a Web site devoted to the Chinese adoption issue, increasing numbers of Chinese couples wish to adopt children, as the recent economic boom has allowed more families to pay the fees associated with exceeding the one-child policy, and the valuation of girls is improving enough so that more parents are deciding to raise their own daughters.