Archive for January 13th, 2008

The story I wrote about yesterday out of the UK on one consequence of inaccessible birth information has prompted much attention across the adoption world.

While my contribution to the discussion prompted by this story in the Telegraph was short and general, one made by Robin Harritt, a British adoptee who has been working for adoptee rights in the UK for a long time, is longer, specific and extremely informative on the fight for open records in Britain.

With Robin’s permission, I am cutting and pasting a comment he posted on a UK adoption group, a close version of which also appeared on the alt.adoption group.

Isn’t it the case that problem with incestuous marriage and inherited health problems tends to be more of an issue in endogamic communities or groups where it happens over and over again within the same family, e.g. the European Royal families?

In exogamous cultures such as ours the problem is the social stigma that traditionally surrounds incest even when it is accidental incest as a result of the parties involved, not knowing that they are within the
prohibited degree of consanguinity

That adoption is still set up in such a way that it is possible for people to marry not knowing that they are brother and sister is an absolute disgrace in modern Britain. I wrote to Alan Milburn the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Services about this via my MP, at the time of the Adoption and Children Bill. He signed the Bill off as conforming to the Human Rights Act, which of course in this respect, it does not. We did not get an answer from Milburn. Jacquie Smith the health minister overseeing the second Bill was equally unconcerned at the time.

The problem with issues such as this and getting the law changed is that it needs more than just a few people at a time to express their concern.

In the recent Sexual Offences Bill some people involved in the post adoption field tried to get the law changed so that it would no longer be a criminal offence where incest took place between two people who had a relationship as result of unknowingly being of the prohibited degree of consanguinity. I believe their attempts at changing the law were unsuccessful and that incest between adoptees is still criminal offence once they become aware of their relationship. Though quite unlikely to be prosecuted, it seems

Under the 1956 Act

10 Incest by a man

(1) It is an offence for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman whom he knows to be his grand-daughter, daughter, sister or mother.

(2) In the foregoing subsection “sister” includes half-sister, and for the purposes of that subsection any expression importing a relationship between two people shall be taken to apply notwithstanding that the relationship is not traced through lawful wedlock.

11 Incest by a woman

(1) It is an offence for a woman of the age of sixteen or over to permit a man whom she knows to be her grandfather, father, brother or son to have sexual intercourse with her by her consent.

(2) In the foregoing subsection “brother” includes half-brother, and for the purposes of that subsection any expression importing a relationship between two people shall be taken to apply notwithstanding that the
relationship is not traced through lawful wedlock.

So therefore although they may have lived a normal married live and have perfectly happy healthy children, not knowing them selves to be brother and sister, once they discover their genetic relationship, any kind of normal married life between them becomes a criminal offence!

At least this case and the publicity that it has attracted in the media across the world may help to get the adoption laws changed and the necessary amendment to Sexual Offences Act to ensure that no one is ever
prosecuted for accidental incest.

So from the point of view of legality, if you are a couple in that situation, in many ways it’s best not to know.

However if you were born to a mother or father who is a carrier of an inherited disease, it is quit important that you do know. You can then at least have a chance to have early foetal tests to decide whether to
continue a pregnancy. If you have religious or ethical objections to termination of pregnancy you can be tested yourself and avoid having children if you are positive and don’t want to risk having a child who
is affected.

Of course what is so for adoptees in this respect, is also so for those born as a result of gamete donation. We all need to know who our genetic parents are, that is surely a basic human right.

My sincere thanks to Robin for passing along this info, and for allowing me to reprint it here.

You can learn more about the wrangling for rights in the UK on his site here, read some of his story on his blog … although it’s not been active for quite a while … and learn about his search for birth family here.

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