Emily Jaycox editorial

Privacy of birth parents should be protected

Desire for family is universal and it would be safe to say that longing for connection only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic that coined the phrase ‘social distancing.’

That yearning for family or to know where you came from is the reason many may have rejoiced when the Government of Alberta quietly made changes to adoption record access recently — that is, if they even heard of it.

The Post Adoption Registry keeps sealed records for all adoptions in Alberta, however, certain changes recently came into effect without much fanfare or media coverage. An open letter posted on alberta.ca dated May, 2021, states the changes to post-adoption disclosure legislation came into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

The amendments to legislation makes access to adoption information easier to access for adult adoptees, birth parents and siblings.

“The Ministry of Children’s Services is now able to release identifying biological background information to an adopted person or their descendants, siblings and biological parents, unless a specific veto has been filed,” the letter states.

As of July 1, information can now be released to siblings. This was considered a “grace period” that respected “the balance between information disclosure and the right to privacy.”

Birth parents and adoptees could only file a veto for adoptions filed before 2005, but the deadline to do so was July 1, 2021. (sealed records weren’t allowed after 2005.)

While some may applaud these changes, my concern is for the rights of biological parents.

Many birth parents are only able to make that difficult, brave choice to give up their child so they can have a better life, on the assurance of anonymity and the protection of their private and medical information.

For some, that assurance could be vital to their physical, emotional and mental well-being and safety.

The guaranteed privacy of sealed adoption records should be an unassailable, legal right that should never have been repealed.

Birth parents shouldn’t have had to apply to keep that right by an arbitrary deadline. For many, it may be too late as they may not have even been aware of the deadline.

Another thing I find upsetting is how it’s becoming increasingly popular to send in a DNA sample to find family connections through genealogy services. The problem with services like this, is it can connect people to individuals who did not consent to have their identity disclosed.

For example, if your name has been entered on a family tree website by a relative without your knowledge, and someone sends in their swab and gets a match from the website, it will connect back to you, and you could wind up with someone you never expected to meet showing up on your doorstep.

The information obtained from such mail-in DNA kits can be psychologically damaging for all involved; sometimes there’s a good reason that information wasn’t disclosed and you’re better off not knowing. The Internet is rife with such examples.

You should also think twice before sharing a post or giving information about a missing person if the post doesn’t originate from an official source, such as the RCMP. You don’t know who you could be unwittingly aiding. It could be an abusive former partner searching for their ex or a parent who does not have custody searching for a child.

Ponoka News occasionally gets requests to help locate a long-lost family member or a birth parent, etcetera. There are several reasons why we are unable to help with such requests. Indeed, it would be unconscionable to do so, even if we had the means.

For one, we simply don’t have the resources or the capability to search for missing persons. It’s not in a journalist’s purview or even their skill set to go searching for missing people or birth families.

For another, when we don’t know the person making the request, we have no idea what their intentions are, or what privacy concerns the person they are searching for may have.

While I can sympathize with people searching for family connections, it’s not something I can help with. Additionally, my own personal moral compass would be more inclined to protect the identity of the birth parent.

They made their choices when they signed adoption papers and those decisions should be respected. They gave you the gift of life, give them the gift of respecting their privacy if that is what they wish.