Should adoptees have access to their original birth records, allowing them to identify birth parents without their consent?

A bill before the state Legislature would give some adoptees access to their original birth certificates, essentially elevating the interests of adoptees above those of birth parents who requested anonymity.

Changing the rules decades after the fact seems unfair, but state rules should balance the rights of all parties by helping adoptees get access to valuable health data without compromising privacy.

Since 1982, birth parents in Minnesota who choose to give up a child for adoption have been required to fill out an affidavit either allowing or preventing the disclosure of their identities at the request of the child, once that child has reached adulthood. In that time, about one in 10 birth parents have opted to prevent disclosure, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform, which is promoting the "open records" change in adoption law.

The proposal would apply only to adoptions made before the enactment of the 1982 affidavit procedure. Birth parents in those pre-1982 adoptions who want their identities to remain concealed would need to file an affidavit.

Heart-warming stories of reunions of adoptees and birth parents receive significant public attention and give open records advocates a strong platform on which to make their case. Meanwhile, birth parents who want their records kept private, almost by definition, lack a voice in the public debate.

Currently, adoptees who want access to their records can appeal to a judge, who would then weigh the interests of the adoptee against those of the birth parent. That can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but one where a third party adjudicates and requires adoptees to make a case beyond genealogical curiosity.

Adoptees can also request that their adoption agencies contact their birth parents or provide information such as health histories. Any legislation should give adoptees access to health information even if birth parents choose to remain anonymous.

The proposed bill would change a sensitive and fundamental aspect of the adoption process retroactively. Doing so could have the unintended consequence of discouraging birth parents from considering adoption in the future, even when it's the best alternative for them and their child, because of concerns that the state might change the rules again in the future.

The individual circumstances of birth parents and adoptees are so varied that it seems unwise and unfair to completely discard such a key privacy provision in a covenant as sensitive as adoption. Before requiring birth parents to come forward, more should be done to encourage disclosure and require sharing of health information without violating the privacy of birth parents.