Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ethics & Adoption Evan B. Donaldson Ethcs Conference 1999

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Ethics & Adoption Conference
Anaheim, CA
Ethics and Adoption: A Spiritual Perspective
Moderator: Rev. Rich Buhler

Father Tom Brosnan

Intimacy is the place where adoption encounters spirituality. Intimacy means to announce, to make known. When, through secrecy, we seek to protect adoptees born illegitimate, the adopted can never announce themselves fully; we are perpetually reticent to make ourselves known.

The institution of adoption, intending to protect from the stigma of illegitimacy, sought a solution through the amended birth certificate. With it came the principle of asserted equivalence -- the adopted child would be as if born to the adoptive parents. I want to thank Joan Hollinger for pointing out so kindly yesterday that I, as an adoptee, am a legal fiction. When the analogy is secretized, however, and fiction taken for fact -- we enter the perilous realm of lies.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that human beings are moved by love of the truth. So inherent is this drive for the truth that in human nature it becomes an imperative. To address a human being in any lesser mode is to do his nature violence. Lies do violence to the human person. When fiction is presented as fact, as is the case of the amended birth certificate, we have pressed the principle of asserted equivalence, and legal fictions become outright lies -- assaulting the dignity of the person whom we thought we were protecting. Lies are illusions. It matters little if the lies are subtle or gross, their effect is always the same: a violation of that innate intimacy – the intimacy between body and soul.

In his great work The Future of an Illusion Freud argued that religion is undesirable precisely because it fosters illusion. The task of psychology was to distinguish illusion from truth. I would suggest (Freud notwithstanding) that this is also the task of all true spirituality. You might agree that this was also the theme of the film The Sixth Sense, where the protagonist’s task was to distinguish truth from illusion, painful though it was. Each human being is meant to do the same. It is, in fact, the meaning of the Catholic belief in Purgatory, where souls are purified of life-long illusions and prepare to meet truth face to face.

When I demanded to see my original baptismal information (not the amended certificate) I learned that my mother was baptized in the Church of the Holy Souls -- referring to the souls in Purgatory who, even after death, remain in need of our prayers for their release to heaven. It was through that bit of information that I was eventually able to find my birth mother. This very unusual title for a church – the Holy Souls – was prophetic, signifying the state into which the institution of adoption, weighed down by secrecy and lies, had put both my mother and me –huddled tight with Purgatory’s other suffering souls.

In adoption there remain many illusions to be shed. Prof. Annas contends that the gestational mother should be considered the legal mother, asserting another equivalence that doesn’t ring true. It is the genetic contribution that is essential to existence. The gestational mother can be replaced and the child will still exist. Substitute another’s sperm or another’s ovum and the individual is lost. Principles of asserted equivalence and legal fictions, when presented as fact through the weapon of secrecy, are illusions from which we need to be purified; lies we need to denounce. Only then can the adopted practice intimacy, announce themselves, make themselves fully known.

All here want to build an ethical house of adoption. But our efforts will come to naught if we build that house on sand. Legal fictions, principles of asserted equivalence, sealed records, amended certificates, secrecy and lies – all illusions, all sand. Instead build your house on the hard rock of truth and you will be of inestimable help in freeing us adoptees, us holy souls, from our time in Purgatory.

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