Column: Barbara Sumner

Dear Toni Street
Congratulations on the arrival of your child born through a surrogate. I have read of your frustration at the hoops you must jump through to now adopt him.
Thank you for lending your profile in support of a petition to update the Adoption Act 1955. By doing so, you are raising awareness of the inadequacies of this act.
The petition describes the Adoption Act 1955 as outdated, complicated and not clearly understood.
As a person adopted under that act, I would add that it is an archaic, moralistic and cruel piece of legislation.
The guise was saving children from the shame of illegitimacy. The real purpose was to provide children for infertile married couples.
As you have discovered, it is wholly unsuited to contemporary family building.
But in reading through the petition, I am struck by one thing. This call for change appears to encode the worst consequences of the 1955 act.
The act legalised the grafting of one family line onto another and the erasure of the family of origin. All family ties, whakapapa and genealogy were severed.
Back then the assumption was the child was a blank slate. The baby handed to worthy adopters was little more than dough to mould and shape as they saw fit. The very idea of inherited traits, of quirks and complexities, was anathema.
The act required a child to have two birth certificates. The first showed the mother’s name and held this as a state secret. Even after the introduction of the misnamed Adult Adoption Information Act 1985, the father’s name was often redacted.
The second public certificate showed the names of the adopters as natural parents. Nothing on this document hinted that the child was acquired through adoption.
Today this same concept is at the heart of the petition.
Intending parents with children created through assisted reproductive techniques want to be listed as parents from the day the child is born.
They want no legal reference to egg donors, sperm donors or surrogates.
Tell me, how is that different from the old severing of all ties? How is this different from birth certificates that list adopters as natural parents?
The 1955 act supports the rights of the parents over those of the people they adopt. Today’s new parents seem to be trying to achieve the same thing. Only they want it with less fuss, less red tape and less cost.
That person you’ve created is a sweet bundle in your arms for such a brief moment. As they grow are they not entitled to the same rights of heritage that you enjoy?
So what are we to do?
Assisted reproductive technologies, surrogacy and all the complexities are here to stay.
If heritage means anything, how do we enshrine it in a document as simple as a birth certificate? How do we also recognise the central role of the commissioning or intending parents?
First, we must commit to ending all secrecy, not only in the home but also in legislation.
Then we must provide a birth certificate that details all those involved. To do that we need a new vocabulary.
Something like this might work.
Fictive kin: Unrelated by birth or marriage, fictive kin have an emotionally significant relationship with a child, with all the characteristics of a family relationship.
If you create a child using outsourced gametes you are the fictive or commissioning kin.
Where one person in a couple is related genetically to the child, they would appear as lineal kin.
Lineal kin: Lineal kin are the man and the woman whose donated or purchased gametes created the child. They represent your child’s direct ancestors.
Affinal kin: Affinal kin is most often used to describe those related to you by marriage. But the term seems appropriate to describe the surrogacy relationship.
The woman whose blood runs through your child’s veins, whose uterus their fingers brushed against to form fingerprints, whose smell and voice and heartbeat your child know like their own, should be recognised as a new form of affinal kin.
When a surrogate is also a genetic mother, then she should appear on a birth certificate as lineal and affinal kin
These new terms allow for the complexities of assisted reproductive technologies. With the tradition of a married mother and father long gone, they allow for diverse forms of family.
But most importantly they provide the person created with a genuine and authentic life.
The secrecy of the Adoption Act 1955 has fueled the disenfranchisement of thousands of New Zealanders. It has cast them as second class citizens with no rights to their own histories.
This extends to their collateral kin, that is, lineal siblings, their nieces, nephews, cousins and descendants.
So, Toni, I’m 100% with you in wanting this act overturned.
It is time we built a new family tree. One with a lineal trunk, with collateral kin forming the branches, while affinal and fictive kin are the leaves and fruit upon that tree.
Together they make up the actual life of the person you create.
What matters most is that you tell the truth.
Once we enshrine a person’s most basic right to authenticity at the core of new legislation, all other contractual issues can be resolved.
How hard can that be?

Footnotes:

1. The petition represents a single view. The Adoption Act 1955 has impacted the lives of more than 100,000 New Zealand mothers, their children and the people who acquired them.

Any change to the Adoption Act 1955 without a full inquiry into forced adoptions would be a further crime against the humanity of every one of us caught up in this act.

2. The need to provide a secure home for a child with no kin to care for them will always present a requirement for society. This care should take the form of Enduring Guardianship. All ties are preserved, all needs for security for both the child and the people acting as parents are also maintained.

 

ref. Dear Toni Street – https://www.sadiesumnerbooks.com/blog/2018/10/7/dear-toni-street

Barbara Sumner is an award-winning documentary producer turned writer of fiction for women. Her documentary This Way of Life was shortlisted for an Academy Award, she has won multiple awards for her films and an international journalism prize.