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Riposte – With Sumner Burstyn: If Genetics Don’t Matter

Published By   /   September 12, 2012  /   Comments Off

Riposte – With Sumner Burstyn: If Genetics Don’t Matter

Under proposed changes to New Zealand’s 50-year-old adoption law to be debated by Parliament same sex couples would be able to adopt.

Whatever your opinion on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people having the same rights as heterosexuals, the amendment is a smokescreen. It is set to focus the country on a spurious moral argument, while the real issue, the legal position of adopted people in New Zealand, is ignored.

In the 1970s New Zealand was the adoption capital of the world with one of the highest rates of stranger adoptions per head of population. Today all adopted people in New Zealand are governed by the Adoption Act 1955. This law is so archaic the Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice has made more than 200 recommendations for change since 2007. All have been unsuccessful.

Amending one subsection to allow LGBT adoptions would leave over 100 unacceptable provisions in place. The Act itself is in contravention of anti-discrimination legislation and New Zealand has twice been reprimanded by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the discrimination and infringement of rights of adopted people.

We most often pair the word adopted with the word child. Yet while the state of childhood is fleeting New Zealand’s current laws force a select group into a lifelong state of childlike powerlessness. They are bound and controlled in ways people with full access to their genetic heritage never have to contend with.

To be allowed their full birth records adopted people must first engage a lawyer to apply for a Court Order. They must then stand before a Family Court Judge with a convincing argument as to why they should be allowed access to their own information. To date almost no one has been granted this right because the law is framed so narrowly. Even a grandmother, adopted 52 years ago, has no inherent right to access her own birth records – information freely available to all non-adopted New Zealanders’. It is state sanctioned inequality and identity theft.

In the same vein most New Zealanders think open adoption is part of legislation. But there is no open adoption in law in New Zealand. The level of openness to information or contact with biological family is entirely at the whim of the adopting parents.

And this is where old-fashioned adoption and very modern reproductive technology intersect. When a person is conceived through reproductive technologies and born to a surrogate their commissioning parents must then adopt them. So if you are created in the most contemporary of ways in 2012, you must then spend your life governed by a law created in 1955.

As a nod to changes in reproductive lifestyles a Human Assisted Reproductive Technologies (HART) register was created to ensure all gamete donations are non-anonymous.

However the register is another example of short sighted legislation. You might be created from genetic material sourced anywhere in the world and yet there’s no legal mechanism or mandate for recording your donors on your birth certificate and no requirement for your parents to inform you.

All this is compounded by John Key’s government disbanding The Bioethics Council which has left New Zealand without a public forum to discuss these issues.

The need for human beings to know their origins is undeniable. Genealogy is the fastest growing hobby in the world. The US Family History Library alone gets up to seven million hits per day. Olivia Pratten, a donor-conceived woman from Canada said it best, “If genetics don’t matter … then why don’t they just hand out babies at random in the maternity ward?

The LGBT community, perhaps more than any other, knows what it is like to be treated as second class and to be actively discriminated against. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt refused to get married until all people could marry. Perhaps the LGBT community could refuse to adopt until adopted people are granted the same rights as all other New Zealanders.

New Zealand has been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1978. It states that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. It does not say ‘unless you are adopted or donor conceived’.

Forget piecemeal amendments. The 1952 act should be totally scrapped and new legislation created that puts adopted people on the same legal and human rights footing as their non-adopted peers.

Producer and writer Sumner Burstyn is an award winning, widely published journalist. She produced the multi-award winning documentaries This Way of Life, and, One Man, One Cow, One Planet. For more information on Sumner’s documentary films, see Cloud South Films. A catalogue of her written work can also be viewed at: LiveNews.co.nz in the Riposte channel. You can also read more about Sumner’s career in LiveNews.co.nz’s About Us section.

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