Saturday, September 6, 2008

Exploitation in Adoption

I recently saw a Discovery channel program called Half Man Half Tree about a man with horrible wort-like deformities in Romania and the US doctor who traveled their to help him. This young man was a member of a troupe -- a freak show that traveled with the circus. It was humiliating, but earned him a living the only way he could to help support his family including two children he was raising after his wife left him.

Is it exploitation if it benefits - even coincidentally - the "victim"? Is it exploitation if it is done "voluntarily"?

Those of us who were exploited by adoption practices know all too well that guns or threats of life and death hanging in the balance are not needed to exploit someone. So what does constitutive exploitation?

All of these questions began swirling through my head after hearing about "The Locater" premiering Sept 6 on WeTV:

"Half of the world is looking for the other half." Troy Dunn

Troy Dunn is a true phenomenon: From finding birth parents to organ donors, his brilliant investigative skills are a marvel to all who see him in action. His impressive track record for locating people means that he and his staff are routinely inundated with dozens of new cases to solve on a weekly basis.

Tony Dunn, I am told, was (perhaps still is?) VP with and has received mixed reviews, shall we say, as an ethical searcher.

I myself have always found publicized reunions - especially when they tape the actual original moment of contact - extremely exploitive. I have also long been aware that for many it is a way of funding a search and/or a long-distant reunion that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Such televised heart-wrenching reunions are also "good for the cause'"of unsealing adoptions and removing secrecy as they show to what lengths those living under the seal have to go, to enjoy what all others take for granted. Reunions generally show that neither party is a deranged stalker, but simply an ordinary and caring human being.

And yet, ordinary folk do not meet their mothers, fathers, sons or daughters on television - unless they opt to have their birth broadcast! Neither do "ordinary" family reunions make for TV ratings - BORING!

And so such dramatization of our interpersonal moments both exploit us and our issues - our pain, our loss - while bringing attention to adoption-related issues, hopefully...if we are not seen as Jerry Springer-type entertainment.

Is it exploitation or help - can something be one and the same?

America Heritage:
  1. To employ to the greatest possible advantage: exploit one's talents.
  2. To make use of selfishly or unethically: a country that exploited peasant labor. See Synonyms at manipulate.
  3. To advertise; promote.

This is a confusing a contradictory definition. It brings into play a character judgment of "selfish:" devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

"Regardless of others": There's the rub! I believe that something becomes ruthlessly exploitive when the benefit to one's self outweighs any possible benefit to the other. But it also seems clear that there are degrees of exploitation and it depends who is making the judgment call and how.

Once upon a time, adoption was supposed to be a preferred alternative because it provided a child who might start out with a single mother with two parents - a mother and a father. It recreated Ozzie and Harriet instead of Murphy Brown! Adoption spared the child the "stigma of illegitimacy" and spared the mother the burden and possible scorn of being a sinful woman. All alleged "benefits" traded off for the loss and pain of permanent separation.

Today those benefits no longer - or barely - exist, so marketers of adoption create new pseudo benefits, each of course with an ounce of truth.

The majority of adoptions move children from lower to higher socio-economic living conditions - both internationally and domestically (at least allegedly, and at least at the time of the adoption, and not taking into account the finances and resources of extended family members). So there is a modicum of "benefit" in the removal of a child from his natural family to be placed with others. In cases of abuse of neglect, there is likewise a benefit involved.

However, the benefit is always a trade-off for a loss. A loss of connectivity, heredity, truth.

Today - adoption has become more and more about filling a demand for children. When adoption starts from this perspective, and those who work in the field put their efforts into searching out and finding children to meet a demand - where is the justification - the trade off - the benefit? And for whom? What about the livelihoods that rely on the redistrubition of children? Does the end justify the means?

Let's look back at the Romanain man, Dede, in the traveling circus. The circus owners spoke very proudly of how they were helping these deformed performers who had no other way to make a living. They were proud to say they were "helping" them, albeit while helping themselves far more!

Can one profit and help at the same time? SURELY! Doctors do, as do many others. But who are doctors "exploiting" while they earn a living helping?

These are questions each individual has to live with for him or herself. I, personally, could not sleep at night knowing that the food on my table was bought at the expense of the pain of another and salted with their tears. I could thus never be a baby matter how hard I tried to convince and others that I was "one of the best in the filed" and that i provided a service and helped people, no more than I could be a "kind" pimp or madam, and pat myself on the back for not beating my prostitutes physically or financially!

Troy Dunn and the idea of televised reunions brought all this to the forefront for me. Where do we do we draw the line? What constitutes exploitation? Can exploitation ever a good thing?

I have far more question than answers, but this idealist wishes that people could avoid all kinds of exploitation...that it just wasn't necessary. Wouldn't it be preferable if all the Dedes of the world could receive the financial support they needed without having to humiliate themselves for it? And not see a better still - if they had access to healthcare to cure their deformities!

Likewise, I dream of a world where no mother's poverty father's inability to provide for his family...are exploited by adoption, but rather those who truly care work to provide for families, not exploit or profit from, their neediness.

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