Measure Would Grant Adoptees Access to Birth Certificates, Family Medical Histories
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph Vitale and Loretta Weinberg which would allow adoptees in New Jersey to access medical history and birth records was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee today by a vote of 6-0, with four abstentions.
“For most of us, having answers to the questions of identity and heritage is a source of comfort and cultural pride,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and vice chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “However, for adopted New Jerseyans, many will never get answers to the key questions of who they are and where they come from under the current records access regulations. Through this bill, we will allow adopted adults to decide for themselves if they want to know their history and heritage, and if both parties agree, we will be able to reunite adoptees with their birth parents.”
“Right now, not only does the State keep adopted persons in the dark regarding birth information, but we also deny them access to family medical histories which are so important in making major health care decisions,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and chair of the Senate health panel. “When this bill moved through the Senate, we heard very emotional and powerful testimony, from people on both sides, regarding the need to know or to remain anonymous. This bill strikes a proper balance between both, and would allow adoptees to make the best health care decisions 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 the 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 family medical history, alerting them to any genetic predispositions they may carry for certain types of illnesses.
Birth parents would have a year to opt out of disclosure and then 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 an adopted minor, would be able to request from the State Registrar a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate. If the birth parents choose nondisclosure, 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.
When a birth parent puts a child up for adoption in New Jersey moving forward, they would be asked to submit a preference for how they would like to be contacted: either directly, through an intermediary, or not at all. Birth parents would also be asked to provide medical and cultural information. Both the Contact Preference Form and the Medical/Cultural History Form will be mailed to an adopted person upon request along with a copy of their original birth certificate.
At any time, a birth parent may rescind their request for non-disclosure, change their contact preference, update their contact information or modify their Medical and Cultural History Form. The State Registrar will notify an adopted person who has made a previous request for their birth certificate under this law of any updated information that is received.
“This bill isn’t about fairy-tale endings and lasting family reunions for adoptees and their birth parents – although that could happen under the bill,” said Senator Weinberg. “It’s about making it easier for both sides to find some sense of closure, and finally get answers to all the unanswered questions that many adoptees and parents who give their children up for adoption carry for their entire lives. Even in cases when a long-term, lasting relationship didn’t work out between adoptees and their birth parents, most who’ve made that reconnection do not regret it.”
“Simply put, it’s the right thing to do to give adoptees better access to information that many people spend years and thousands of dollars to track down under the current system,” said Senator Vitale. “Folks in the advocacy community have told us how personally rewarding it is to look at their birth parents or biological family members and realize that there’s someone in this world that looks like them. This bill would allow adoptees in New Jersey to fill in the missing pieces of their identity that many have struggled their entire lives to find.”
The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration. It was approved by the Senate by a vote of 27-10 in March.