Adoption in Australia: Contemporary cultural, theoretical and political perspectives Monash University, July 3-4, 2008. Wrongful identities? The moral significance of stories told by late discoverers of adoptive and donor offspring status. Helen J. Riley
Adoption in Australia: Contemporary cultural, theoretical and political perspectives Monash University, July 3-4, 2008
The moral significance of stories told by late
discoverers of adoptive and donor offspring status
Helen J. Riley
Queensland University of Technology
Humanities Research Program
Applied Ethics discipline
Supervisor: Dr. Trevor Jordan
The author is a late discovery adopted person.
This image is part of a visual art, body art and photography project titled 12 Artrageous Women
initiated by Artrageous Community Arts Centre, Deagon, Qld 4017.
Contact the author for further information - firstname.lastname@example.org
Background – Helen Riley from own work Body art – Ria Willering Photography – Claire Fletcher
'identity rights and genetic origins – the ethical implications of the late discoveryof adoptive and donor offspring status'
To privilege the voices of those who have had knowledge of their genetic origins intentionally concealed from them, and the discovery of that knowledge as an adult. These voices have rarely been heard.
Prior research is minimal and undertaken entirely from within a social science perspective
Donor Assisted Conception
To reveal the moral significance attached to the feelings of betrayal and loss of trust expressed in late discovery stories.
To do thisutilisingfeminist philosopher Margaret Urban Walker’s expressive-collaborative conception of morality which links identity, narrative and moral life.
This conception sees moral ‘problems’ as
“points in continuing histories of attempted mutual
adjustments and understandings among people” (p.35).
Walker, M. U. (2006). Moral repair: reconstructing moral relations after wrongdoing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Research from within this applied ethics perspective reveals
markers of moral significance
in late discovery stories
who they are,
who they are connected to,
what they care for, and
what they care about
Four areas of moral significance
that are identified as contributing to
feelings of betrayal and loss of trust
“...fundamental assumption[s] about the world and our safety in it”
“person feels utterly helpless in the face of a force that is perceived to be life-threatening”.
[NB: Substitute identity-threatening for life-threatening]
“when the trauma is of human origin and is intentionally inflicted...it not only shatters one's fundamental assumptions about the world and one's safety in it but also severs the sustaining connection between the self and the rest of humanity”.
Brison, S. J. (1997). Outliving oneself: trauma, memory, and personal identity. In D. T. Meyers (Ed.), Feminists rethink the self. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press p.14-21
Karla, LDA* age 40 – 3 yrs since disclosure
“I felt profoundly betrayed…the brunt of a 40 year joke”
Beth LDDO# age 40 – 13 yrs since disclosure
“I am 27 years old…did it ever occur to you to mention this a little earlier”
Ursula LDDO age 53 – 12 years since disclosure
“…I was left with the mammoth task of reassessing my whole life…a deep sense of loss and grief…anger and frustration”
Names have been changed to preserve anonymity
* LDA - late discovery adopted person# LDDO – late discovery donor offspring
Felicity LDA age 43 - 9 yrs since disclosure
“…absolutely devastated…I was sad, confused, angry, relieved, emotional, bitter, afraid, and an immense feeling of loneliness and rejection and feeling not important and perhaps a feeling of insignificance”
Wendy LDDO age 24 – 2 yrs since disclosure
“shell-shocked…living dual lives…for as long as I can remember dad has loathed my sister and I [and now he admits this is] because we are not his”
Brenda LDA age 67 – 12yrs since disclosure
“I felt absolute disbelief, let down, lied to, and that I had been mistrusted by not being told the truth and had my life living a lie…all these emotions and reactions seem[ed] to join together”
Karla, LDA age 40 – 3 yrs since disclosure
“obsessed with the unfairness of state-sanctioned laws that prevented me from access to my original birth certificate…[and] shocked when my progressive thinking friends and colleagues did not see [the unfairness of this type of secrecy]…as self-evident, and were completely unfazed by this, and also by donor issues as well…”
Beth LDDO age 40 – 13 yrs since disclosure
Beth comments on the lies that had been told by her mother –
“She’d lied on my medical forms…you lied, I said, you lied”
Markus LDA age 47 – 19 yrs since disclosure
“I had fair skin and didn’t know I was of aboriginal descent”
Personal agency is disrupted
Brison, S. J. (1997). Outliving oneself: trauma, memory, and personal identity. In D. T. Meyers (Ed.), Feminists rethink the self. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
Rosemary LDA age 55 - 29yrs since disclosure
“growing up I always felt there was something [missing] but a story was always fabricated to answer my questions”
Heather LDDO age 42 – 24 yrs since disclosure
“everything I’d lived and thought I full understood through one identity, I began to second guess with half of my identity missing”.
“It actually answered many questions that I had simply shrugged off in the past”
Cameron LDA age 45 – 14yrs since disclosure
“so much of my life now makes sense. During childhood…I ‘knew’ something was very wrong with the picture I was living in – something was definitely not right…[I] internalised the wrong and made it about me”
Affirmation of equal status
and equal rights
Sally LDA age 47 – 8 yrs since disclosure
“She [government worker] was not empathic, supportive or understanding: she just pushed my original birth certificate…across the counter and said…this is you…[I also] found it impossible to get any information in Australia about late discovery adoption.
Ursula LDDO age 53 – 12 years since disclosure
“…lack of respect for my missing genetic origins shown by society, the medical profession…the government and those who had personally sanctioned and enabled my artificial conception”
Late discoverers of both adoptive and donor offspring status are having difficulty regaining self-respect, trusting again, feeling hope, feeling safe or forgiving…
“to fail to confirm the [victim’s] sense of wrong is itself another wrong” (Walker, 2006 p.20).
Moral repair demands recognition and acknowledgment
My other self is musing
on the person I should be
if only there had been a chance
To find a proper me.
But who am I? Where am I from?
My life is all at sea,
From being trapped inside a lie,
A false identity.
Christine Whipp, LDDO