Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conflict of Interest

An item from my Google Alert on adoption caught my eye tonight. A couple in Pennsylvania apparently had its adoption of an infant fall through at the last minute. They discovered that the agency lied to the child's parents about a felony record for the prospective adoptive mother and about the prospective father's lack of interest in adopting a child. Apparently, the motivation was to adopt the child to another couple who paid more.

By any account, a horrific story. An unethical agency. And a lack of interest in how the decision to relinquish might be affecting the parents. But pretty much par for the course in adoption. Nothing I felt compelled to write about.

Until I go to this bit...

Couple deny allegations that led birth parents to halt adoption:

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a policy, research and education organization, said it's essential that an agency work for both sides.

'Good, ethical practices entails serving everybody's needs and means acting purely transparently in all regards,' he said.

Mr. Pertman was concerned that people might look at this example and think that all adoptions work this way.

Perhaps I should give Pertman a pass on this. And I don't really care to tear him down personally. But his comments reveal a lack of ethical sophistication that seems rife throughout the adoption industry.

It is NOT "essential that an agency work for both sides." Indeed, it is unrealistic to think that an agency CAN work for both sides. It is called "conflict of interest," and it is a thorny ethical issue.

When my wife an I went to buy our house, we were informed of the rules governing real estate agents. Our agent would work for us. The seller would have an agent working for them. That would avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. When we wound up bidding on a house being sold by an agent who worked in the same company, our agent made it clear that she could not assist us in the bidding process to avoid any ethical pitfalls.

Our society understands conflict of interest when it comes to buying and selling houses. But when it comes to the adoption industry, the norm is still to believe that somehow social workers are better than normal human beings, and aren't subject to conflicts of interest. We get conflicts of interest in the law, in business, and in medicine. But when it comes to adoption, when it comes to the unmet demand for healthy infants, we don't recognize that a conflict of interest can arise and try to protect both the parents and the prospective adoptive parents from the conflict.

This is merely a symptom of the failure to recognize the very real ethical complexities posed by our adoption industry. Until we face up to those realities, we won't see real change. A case like this is awful, but Pertman's reaction to it isn't strong enough.

When human beings are subjected to conflicts of interest, we will see ethical lapses. It's only a matter of time. Instead of chastising agencies to rise above the inherent conflict of interest we've put them in, we need to develop a system where both sides have their separate representatives that can advise them and advocate for them.


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right about the conflict of interest and the lack of ethics in adoption. I harbor a lot of anger now, realizing what the "facilitator" did for me (nothing) vs what she must have been advising the aparents. Of course, her own interests were at stake also. It's humiliating to realize how I was taken advantage of, and frustrating to know there is nothing I can do about it 24 years later.


Anonymous said...

A few years back I was becoming aware of open adoption as young moms were crying about their open adoption agreements being slammed shut by the adoptive parents..As a Mom who lost her infant dueing the baby scoop era I had hoped things had changed.What found out was coercion is still alive but now is packaged in pretty paper with a lovely bow called "Open adoption".IN fact it is a ploy along with the 'friendship" the agency's offer.
Sorry, I meant to explain how I became witness to "Conflict of interest" when I contacted an adoption agency on line that has the words "open adoption" in it to ask if the agreements were binding and it was assumed I was a propective adoptive parent.I was asked if I would like a phamplet sent to me which I stated "yes".
Wow, was I reading what I thought I was reading when it arrived???? YES, it stated that the agencys' counselor becomes friends with the pregnant Mom and this friendship comes in handy when the Mom wants to change her mind and keep her baby.They further stated this is why I should sign (aka send a check)to them ,since this is why they have a low 'failure rate'aks the Mother changing her mind.
If this isn't unethical I don't know what is!!!But the more I delved into adoption practices the less ethics I see.Indeed everything old is new again......

maybe said...

It is impossible for an adoption agency to act in the interests of both parties. Their mission is to close the deal on adoptions, not help mothers keep their babies.

Pertman is an intellectually lazy adoptive parent. Is it any wonder he can't see the inherent conflict of interest?