Monday, February 15, 2010

Legal and Ethical Questions about the Adoptive Process.

Last week, an issue was brought up on the adoptive family yahoo forum that I'm a member of - an issue that many of us in the prospective adoptive community probably haven't thought much about.  I don't know any of the specifics of the family which brought this issue up, so I won't/can't even touch on that situation; so please, in no way should anything in this post be taken to apply to that situation - I simply want to raise this issue to give us something to think about.

The issue is this:  what happens when a family adopts a child from Ethiopia and, at some point in the future, becomes aware that their child has a biological sibling still in Ethiopia, and that the sibling is being relinquished by your child's birth family?  Assuming that the adoptive family would be interested in adopting that bio sibling, Imagine Adoption could facilitate that adoption on behalf of the adoptive family...right????  Well, sometimes is the answer...depending on circumstances.  When this issue came up last week, I talked to a few adoptive families here in Canada and went back to find my own notes on the discussion I had with Imagine quite a while ago...all in order to figure out what to do in the event that this happened in our case.

Here are a few important things to know, for all of those prospective adoptive parents out there who might be open someday to adopting a bio sibling of their Ethiopian-born children:
  • when you go to collect your child in Ethiopia, assuming that you are able to meet with your child's birth family, never, ever mention that you would be open to adopting any of their other children.  When I first heard this, my immediate response was why.  But there is a definite reason for this, beyond the general inappropriateness of saying this to a parent about their child.  The reason is this:  From an Ethiopian legal/ethical perspective, this might be construed as step #1 in a baby buying process.  I know, I know, of course it wouldn't be what you intend - I get that.  But think of it from the perspective of the birth parents and the expectations that it may raise about you as the adoptive parent of their child(ren).  What might they expect in return for the gift of adopting and raising their current/subsequent bio child?  Perhaps nothing (hopefully nothing), but there's a perception issue that's raised here, if nothing else.
  • In fact, if there is ever any subsequent contact between you, as the adoptive family, and the birth family, never mention your openness to adopting any other children that they may relinquish into care.  The fact is that this makes it illegal/unethical for Imagine to facilitate a subsequent sibling adoption.  Imagine cannot be part of any such arrangement, because of the legalities of it and because of the perception that could be had of that kind of situation.  It is a sign of an ethical agency if they refuse to facilitate that subsequent adoption under those circumstances, however brutal it would be for the adoptive family to be unable to pursue that adoption.
  • In fact, as I understand it, any direct contact between the adoptive family and the biological family may put Imagine into a difficult position regardless of the nature of it.  Frankly put, what if the bio family has/develops expectations of you as the adoptive family - for example, that you will support them, etc.  This is something that you as an adoptive family may actually be ok with, but from the perspective of the adoption agency (and, at a more general, ethical level), this would put them, and you, into a potentially very awkward position.  I don't know that Geoff and I will ever even have the opportunity to have contact with the bio family of our Ethiopian-born children following our return to Canada, but my thinking is that the safest way to do it would be through Imagine; on the other hand, if there were ever direct contact between the bio family and us, I would ensure that the loop of communication would not include Imagine, because I would never want to make it awkward for them as an agency...or for us, particularly if we were ever in a position to adopt a subsequent bio sibling.
  • If you are open to adopting biological siblings of the child you adopt from Ethiopia, my understanding is that the correct way to go about that is to inform Imagine and/or the orphanage your child comes from, that you would be open to adopting any subsequent biological children that are relinquished by the family. In our own situation, though we aren't looking to increase our family size beyond the three children we will have following our adoption, we will be indicating to Imagine that we would like to be informed if any existing bio siblings come into care; if we have an opportunity to visit the orphanage that cared for our children, we will also advise them of the same.  My understanding is that the orphanage and Imagine would be very happy to give the adoptive family something like a 'first right of refusal' under these circumstances, and that Imagine would be willing and able to legally facilitate that subsequent adoption. 
I am posting this not to cause any controversy, but perhaps to create discussion and, for sure, to create some awareness within the adoptive community of the tight parameters within which Imagine is legally allowed to operate in Ethiopia.

Any thoughts about this?  Any nuances I've missed?  For those families who have BTDT, any additional information you can share?


  1. It's definitely an interesting question, Ruth. I totally understand Imagine's perspective. Any contact with our kids birth families is fraught with ethical issues!

    That said, we are in contact with them but through an intermediary who isn't affiliated with the parents or Imagine. He has passed on photos and provided us with photos and is currently looking for the kids real birth certificates at the hospital they were born in. So far it's working for us but it is expensive.

    It's so difficult to walk this fine line - our kids need to maintain ties with their first family - they will have so many questions and to have contact with them is such a gift.

    Certainly this isn't possible with Chinese adoptions or other international adoptions. But we don't want to do anything remotely unethical.


  2. Ruth, I would like to thank you for positing this, as I was completely unaware and I would see myself saying something to that nature without thinking it could cause harm or difficulties. I now know what the right steps will be should we be open to adopting a sibling and will make sure to take all necessary "proper" steps.

  3. yes, thank you Ruth. I too will be passing on to Imagine that we would be open to a sibling, after we get our referral.



  4. wow, ruth, I REALLy appreciate your hard work in putting together this post..things I wouldn't have even thought of, but which make total sense. Who knows where our paths will lead?? This is now something I will def. be telling Imagine and/or the orphanage. darci

  5. We have friends that have been trying to adopt their children's biological (11 yr old sibling) sibling. Apparently, the laws have changed in Ethiopia and relinquishment can no longer be based on poverty. Children available for adoption must be abandoned or parents must be terminally ill (which would probably mean they could no longer procreate.) The 11 yr old child is living in an orphange but his birth mother is healthy and therefore no longer meets the new criteria for reliquishment. Very sad for him, not being raised with his younger sibs in Canada, and very disappointing for the Canadian family trying desperately to bring him here.

  6. We have contact with bio families as well. These situations are very real and children's futures depend on it. It is something we had not considered when we first learned of adoption, we assumed there would not be so many extended family members. But there are - and we are glad to have met them.

    Enjoying these posts Ruth, sk