TRENTON – A Senate Committee substitute for bills sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Loretta Weinberg, which would give adoptees in New Jersey access to medical history and birth records, was approved by the Senate Monday by a vote of 27-10.
“Many adopted New Jerseyans have been struggling for years with key questions about identity,” said Vitale, D-Middlesex, the vice-chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“They want to know some of the most basic information that many of us take for granted—answers to the questions of who we are, and where we came from. Rather than deny adopted people access to vital identifying information, we should be doing whatever we can to foster access and, if it’s mutually agreed upon by both parties, reunite adoptees with their birth parents.”
“While we heard compelling testimony when this bill was before the Health Committee, the most compelling argument to me is the importance of accurate family medical histories in making major health care decisions,” said Weinberg, D-Bergen, and chairwoman of the committee. “This is an issue which becomes very emotional for people on either side of the debate. However, when it comes down to it, providing adoptees with access to birth information is simply the right thing to do, and allows them to make the best health care decisions possible for themselves and their families.”
The bill, a Senate Committee Substitute for S-799 and S-1399, would establish a system to allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates and family medical history. Under the amended version of the bill, the birth parents of individuals put forward for adoption in New Jersey would have one year from the enactment of regulations to submit a request to the State registrar for non-disclosure. During this year, adoptees would be able to contact the adoption agency they came from to get non-identifying medical information, including a family medical history, alerting them to any genetic predispositions they may carry for certain types of illnesses.
After birth parents have had an opportunity to opt out of disclosure, an adopted person 18 years of age or older, an adult direct descendant of an adopted person if that person is deceased, or the adoptive parent or guardian of a minor adopted person, would be able to request from the State Registrar a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate. Birth parents would be required, after the year allotted for them to opt-out, to submit a preference form for how they would like to be contacted: either directly, through an intermediary, or not at all. If the birth parents choose not to be contacted, they would have to submit medical and cultural information which would be provided to an adoptee when they receive a redacted version of their birth certificate.
“I personally know of cases in which adoptees were able to track down their birth parents, and birth parents their adult adopted children, through hours of hard work and research and considerable personal expense,” said Weinberg. “In those cases, while it didn’t necessarily result in happy endings and strong familial relationships for the people involved, the adoptees and the birth parents expressed relief in finally knowing either where they came from or what happened to their adopted child. This bill doesn’t promise fairy-tale reunions for every single adopted person, but it makes it easier to reconnect with their past and heritage.”
“For adopted New Jerseyans, this bill is about filling in the missing branches on the family tree,” said Vitale. “Many of the folks in the advocacy community that I’ve spoken to have told me about how personally rewarding it is to be able to look at their birth parents or biological family members, and realize for the first time that there’s someone in this world that looks like them. We need to tear down the barriers between adopted individuals and birth information or family medical history, and allow them to find the missing pieces of their identity.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.
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