A plea for adoptee medical history

A lovely young friend of mine – adoptee from Korea, mother, wife, dedicated social worker and friend to many – passed away over the weekend. She was just past 40, far too young to leave this life.

What took her was cancer, as is the case with many, diagnosed too late to give her more than a reprieve from the worst. She fought it like a Trojan and lived every last minute she reclaimed to the very fullest. What an inspiration she was and always will be!

I know the cancer that took my friend. It took my aunt far too young as well. Her children are at risk, too, but knowing my aunt's history has put them under medicine’s watchful eye, which will allow any asymptomatic disease they might experience to be identified and treated early. My friend never had that chance.

Even when the outcome may not be life-threatening, medical history may save an adoptee from long and arduous medical testing of the "shooting in the dark" variety. I watched one of my children go through this, blessedly to a positive outcome, and often wonder if a little medical history might have shortened that experience.

And so I make a plea that has been on my list of “things we could do right now to improve adoption” for a long time: Do everything you can to obtain as much medical history as you can from placing mothers and fathers.

Don’t participate in “drop box” adoptions that enable secrecy. Don’t let notions of “birthmother privacy” stop you. Don’t think, as many do, that medical histories are unimportant, or that knowing one’s medical history is no guarantee of health, or that placing mothers and fathers may not really know their families’ medical histories anyway.

We've let red herrings stand in the way of this simple change in adoption practice for too long, sometimes with devastating consequence. So just get as much information as you can and pass it on to the adoptee and adoptive family. There are no guarantees that medical history will save any of us from anything, but it could be the very clue to a troubling symptom that gets a doctor searching in the right direction and gives an adoptee's health a better chance. Why wouldn't all of us want that?


Suz said…
I agree but want to note that "Do everything you can to obtain as much medical history as you can from placing mothers and fathers" does not entirely solve the problem.

I have a complicated medical history POST placement. Genetic blood disorders, high rates of colon cancer that were discovered post placement.

We need pre placement info but lifelong as well. Things change. How do we address that?

On a personal note when I learned of the serious colon cancer in my family (and had issues myself), I went against my daughters wishes and sent a note to her adoptive family home (addressed to her). She may never want to meet me but I feel it important she know this history and be able to share with her doctors. Same true for the blood disorder.
Hi, Suz! Thanks for commenting - and as always, you are on the money.

My thought is that we start by getting what we can, because today we are doing virtually nothing to provide this information to adoptees. Perhaps once everyone understands the importance of this information, we can come to agreement on how mothers and fathers can report health changes that could impact their surrendered children.

I don't know any other way than to begin at the beginning, though, and that to me is to at least gather what we can at placement. I know I would have appreciated even that much for my kids' sakes - and I know from them that they would have too.

God bless you for following up with your daughter on your family's health changes, I sincerely wish we were in a position to receive the same. And although you may not feel it was appreciated, I believe that on a level it will be, even if it is not acknowledged.

Thanks again, always love to hear your thoughts.
Unknown said…
Not a substitute for medical history, but there are lots of health screenings and medical tests that people can opt in to. Also, some DNA tests can reveal a person's propensity for various illness, genetic disorders, diseases, etc.

The above notwithstanding, there's no substitute for
full disclosure (when possible) of medical info for adoptees.

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