Listening to late discovery adoption and donor offspring stories : adoption, ethics and implications for contemporary donor insemination practices
Riley, Helen J. (2009) Listening to late discovery adoption and donor offspring stories : adoption, ethics and implications for contemporary donor insemination practices. In Spark, Ceridwen & Cuthbert, Denise (Eds.) Other People's Children : Adoption in Australia. Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 145-160.
For most of the 20th Century a ‘closed’ system of adoption was practised
throughout Australia and other modern Western societies. This ‘closed’
system was characterised by sealed records; amended birth certificates to
conceal the adoption, and prohibited contact with all biological family.
Despite claims that these measures protected these children from the taint of
illegitimacy the central motivations were far more complex, involving a
desire to protect couples from the stigma of infertility and to provide a
socially acceptable family structure (Triseliotis, Feast, & Kyle, 2005;
Marshall & McDonald, 2001).
From the 1960s significant evidence began to emerge that many adopted
children and adults were experiencing higher incidences of psychological
difficulties, characterised by problems with psychological adjustment,
building self-esteem and forming a secure personal identity. These
difficulties became grouped under the term ‘genealogical bewilderment’.
As a result, new policies and practices were introduced to try to place the
best interests of the child at the forefront. These changes reflected new
understandings of adoption; as not only an individual process but also as a
social and relational process that continues throughout life. Secrecy and the
withholding of birth information are now prohibited in the overwhelming
majority of all domestic adoptions processed in Australia (Marshall &
One little known consequence of this ‘closed’ system of adoption was the
significant number of children who were never told of their adoptive status.
As a consequence, some have discovered or had this information disclosed to them, as adults.
The first study that looked at the late discovery of genetic origins
experiences was conducted by the Post Adoption Resource Centre in New
South Wales in 1999. This report found that the participants in their study
expressed feelings of disbelief, confusion, anger, sorrow and loss. Further,
the majority of participants continued to struggle with issues arising from
this intentional concealment of their genetic origins (Perl & Markham,
A second and more recent study (Passmore, Feeney & Foulstone, 2007)
looked at the issue of secrecy in adoptive families as part of a broader study
of 144 adult adoptees. This study found that secrecy and/or lies or
misinformation on the part of adoptive parents had negative effects on both
personal identity and relationships with others. The authors noted that those
adoptees who found out about their adoption as adults were ‘especially
likely to feel a sense of betrayal’ (p.4).
Over recent years, stories of secrecy and late discovery have also started to
emerge from sperm donor conceived adults (Spencer, 2007; Turner &
Coyle, 2000). Current research evidence shows that although a majority of
couples during the donor assisted conception process indicate that they
intend to tell the offspring about their origins, as many as two-thirds or
more of couples continue to withhold this information from their children
(Akker, 2006; Gottlieb, A. McWhinnie, 2001; Salter-Ling, Hunter, &
Why do they keep this secret? Infertility involves a range of complex
factors that are often left unresolved or poorly understood by those choosing
insemination by donor as a form of family building (Schaffer, J. A., &
Diamond, R., 1993). These factors may only impact after the child is born,
when resemblance talk becomes most pronounced. Resemblance talk is an
accepted form of public discourse and a social convention that legitimises the child as part of the family and is part of the process of constructing the
child’s identity within the family. Couples tend to become focused on
resemblance as this is where they feel most vulnerable, and the lack of
resemblance to the parenting father may trigger his sense of loss (Becker,
Butler, & Nachtigall, 2005).
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|Item Type:||Book Chapter|
|Keywords:||donor insemination, ethics, adoption, late discovery, narrative, identity, justice, recognition, moral|
|Subjects:||Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES (220000) > APPLIED ETHICS (220100)|
|Divisions:||Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law|
|Copyright Owner:||Copyright 2009 Australian Scholarly Publishing|
|Deposited On:||23 Apr 2010 07:41|
|Last Modified:||13 Dec 2010 14:40|
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