Fortuna: Why won’t the state release birth records for adopted people?

This commentary is by Mike Fortuna, a retired small business owner living in Shelburne.

As Vermonters, we’re all equal under the law — one notable exception being many of our fellow citizens who were adopted as infants.

The Vermont Adoption Act last underwent major changes in 1995, giving those adopted after July 1, 1986, a chance to access their original birth certificate and any other information the state possesses regarding their identity. Unfortunately, original birth certificates for those adopted prior to 1986 remain sealed until the adoptee’s 99th birthday, unless they can get a court to order the state to unseal it.

Most of us take knowledge of our origin for granted. We can make our physicians aware of any family history of disease or premature death in order to protect our health. Our friends and family members who were adopted, and their descendants, don’t have that important advantage.

The state of Vermont possesses, and deliberately withholds, records and information that would allow these adoptees to identify themselves. In doing so, we are denying them access to a full and accurate family health history that can help prevent disease and, possibly, their early death. This is absurd.

Our culture has changed since the 1950s and 1960s, when adoptions were shrouded in secrecy in order to maintain the dignity of the birth parent or parents. Today, services such as and 23andMe have allowed many lucky adoptees to identify one or both birth parents. Success hinges on the closeness and number of biological relatives who participate, and many have no such luck. 

Regardless, most adoptees handle contact with biological relatives with the utmost care and discretion, oftentimes resulting in happy reunions. In 2021, does it make sense for the state of Vermont to continue leaving adoptees susceptible to preventable disease in order to protect the identity of individuals who likely no longer need, or may not even want, protection?

New York State changed its adoption law last year. Adoptees can now request copies of their original, true birth certificates and use that information as they see fit. My state representative, Kate Webb of Shelburne, has agreed to work on a bill which would correct this injustice. As of now, I haven’t received a response from any of the senators I’ve contacted. 

I think most Vermonters would agree that it’s long past time to make this right. If you are interested in this issue, please contact your state representatives and senators and ask that they pass legislation this session.

My adopted sister, Kimberly, will turn 52 this year. Hopefully she can finally come to know her biological family’s health history while the information still has value.

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