Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Numbers Game

How many adoptees want their original birth certificates? How many biological parents don't want their information given out to adoptees?

The first question is something opponents to open records like to use to argue against open records. The second question is ignored, or if it's addressed, it is argued that it's irrelevant.

The reason behind why opponents like to toss around claims about how many adoptees want open records is obvious. As I discussed last week in my post "The Rhetoric of Marginalization," opponents want to paint a picture that it's only a small minority of adoptees who want open records. Given that collecting such numbers is nigh impossible (because no one even knows how many adoptees are out there, much less where), such arguments should be easily dismissed.

Because of the trouble getting hard numbers, this is a hard argument to refute, but it should also be pointed out that it's irrelevant. It doesn't matter if only a few adoptees want equal treatment. It is something that belongs to us a civil right, even if only a fraction of us want to assert it. (This seems unlikely to me, but I don't pretend to have evidence.)

The number of biological parents who aren't interested in sealed records seems more clearly on our side. The range I usually see bandied about is that somewhere between 90% and 95% of biological mothers want their children to have access to their original birth certificate. The response, however, is obvious: we cannot allow the majority to trump the rights of the minority. It doesn't matter what the majority want; the minority has rights that should be protected.

In general, I believe, this form of argument has merit. The minority ought to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. But the specifics don't support sealed records; indeed, the case is the reverse.

Opponents of open records suggest that the majority of adoptees don't want open records, and that fact is somehow supposed to support the invented right of anonymity for biological parents. But no such right truly exists. And in as much as it exists in practice, it should be trumped by the adoptee's right to their identity, a human right if ever there was one.

It is incumbent upon the opponents to show the basis for the supposed right to anonymity, and then to show that such a right is somehow more basic than the right to one's identity.

Failing this, opponents attempt to change the conversation to a discussion about what the majority wants. This is a losing argument for either side to rely on. We cannot find definitive numbers (so either side can make themselves look good with bogus surveys and the like). And what the majority wants is irrelevant to what rights people ought to have. Human rights are not things that can be given up just because the majority want to (or, more commonly, want to take them away from some minority group).

No comments: