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Adoptees hoping to lift secrecy from birth records

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  • Adoptees hoping to lift secrecy from birth records

    Adoptees hoping to lift secrecy from birth records

    The Patriot Ledger

    A bill to give adopted children access to their birth certificates when they
    become adults is on the legislative agenda in Massachusetts for the 10th
    consecutive year, but this time advocates think they can win approval.

    The proposal has failed to get out of committee every year since it was first
    introduced in 1996. Supporters hope they have a powerful ally this year: Senate
    President Robert Travaglini.

    Before the Boston Democrat took over the top Senate post two years ago, he
    co-sponsored the bill along with other lawmakers, said Marylou Sudders, head of
    the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and a
    former commissioner of mental health.

    ‘‘We're hoping to impress upon him and others to move this,'' Sudders said.

    Opponents say access to birth records would violate the privacy rights of
    biological parents.

    Travaglini spokeswoman Ann Dufresne confirmed that the Senate president
    ‘‘was a big supporter'' of access to birth records but she wouldn't fuel
    advocates' hopes.

    ‘‘It's a little premature to say how one piece of legislation or another
    will fare in the legislative process,'' she said.

    A New Hampshire law that allows adult adoptees to obtain birth records starting
    this year helps, Sudders said. ‘‘It certainly gives momentum to
    Massachusetts to approve this.''

    The Massachusetts bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Concord, would give
    adopted children a noncertified copy of their birth certificate after they turn

    Adoptive parents could obtain the records for their adopted children under 18.

    Fargo adopted a child but that is not what compelled her to sponsor the bill, a
    spokesman said. Instead, when she discovered that adopted children could not
    get their birth certificates, ‘‘it became an issue of fairness,'' her
    spokesman said.

    Sudders said having a birth certificate ‘‘is a fundamental right. Think of
    all the things you need it for.''

    But not all adoptees and adoption organizations support open birth records.

    ‘‘People have a right to control access to their personal information,''
    said Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption. ‘‘It's
    not that we oppose contact or reunion, it's that the state should not impose
    access by one side.''

    States began sealing adoptees' birth records in the 1930s to protect children
    and biological parents from the stigma of adoption, which was connected to
    illegitimacy and other reasons for giving up a child or adopting one. Those
    records remained open in Massachusetts until 1974.

    Melissa Spanathas, 36, of Whitman, who was adopted at birth, said she does not
    oppose the bill to make birth certificates available, although she has no
    interest in finding her biological parents.

    Spanathas does want access to her birth parents' medical history, however.

    ‘‘As I get older and see my children grow I feel that having the medical
    history would be beneficial to both them and me,'' she said.

    ‘‘Currently I know nothing,'' she said. ‘‘I have some sketchy
    information that there were heart problems in the parents of my parents, that
    was given to the adoption agency 36 years ago.''

    Spanathas told Rep. Kathleen Teahan, D-Whitman about her concerns. Now Teahan
    has introduced a bill to establish a voluntary registry where biological
    parents could file medical information and their adopted children could find

    The legislation sets up the information bank at the University of Massachusetts
    Medical Center's Center for Adoption, Teahan said.

    ‘‘More and more people are realizing that if they have a tendency for
    something they can adopt a lifestyle'' to reduce their risk, Teahan said.

    Teahan signed on to support Fargo's bill, which also includes a medical data
    bank similar to Teahan's proposal.

    The Fargo bill provides that birth parents, if they wish, could register with
    the state to provide medical information. The biological parents would also
    indicate whether or not they want to be contacted by their child.

    Adoptees seeking their birth certificates would get the medical history and the
    contact preference information along with the birth records.

    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"