May 25, 2004

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House of Delegates
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1991

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, today I have vetoed House Bill 232 - Family Law - Adoption Search, Contact, and Reunion Services.

House Bill 232 expands the adoption search, contact, and reunion services program within the Department of Human Resources that currently applies to adopted individuals and biological parents. This program establishes a process conducted by confidential intermediaries for adoptees and biological parents to locate each other and, if desired, contact each other. House Bill 232 would allow access to this program to siblings who have been adopted and who are at least 21 years old to search for and contact any of their siblings who have been adopted and are at least 21 years old. The bill requires that all consent to adoption agreements contain notice of the search rights for siblings.

I am vetoing this bill because it is not prospective only to adoptions occurring on or after the bill's effective date. Current wisdom concerning adoptions is that the adopted child should be told early on that the child has been adopted. The child has the right to know the truth and this practice of full disclosure will avoid what would be a traumatic discovery later in life. In fact, open adoptions where the birth mother has a continuing role in the child's life after adoption are an option for some individuals.

I fully agree with this practice but recognize that this has not always been the case. I have reservations about the possibility of breaching the confidentiality related to a past adoption that the current law allows with adoptive children and birth parents. Although this law allows a birth parent to search for a child given up for adoption under circumstances where the child is unaware of the adoption, the probable scenario involves an adopted child searching for a birth parent. In this situation the parties are all aware of the adoption. This bill goes an additional step. There undoubtedly are individuals who have no idea that they are adopted. This bill would allow the possibility of having someone from the State inform an individual that he was adopted and has a sibling who was also adopted and would like to contact him. This would indeed be traumatic.

House Bill 232 requires that all future consent to adoption agreements include a notice provision regarding the search rights of siblings. Although the inclusion of this notice provision does not ensure that adoptive parents in the future will tell a sibling that he or she was adopted, the notice, coupled with the current practice regarding disclosure to adopted individuals of the fact of the adoption, would have resulted in few, if any, painful disclosures for future adoptees. The bill's expanded right of search and contact, however, is not limited to future adoptions. There is a far greater possibility of a painful involuntary disclosure of an individual's adoptive status because prior consent to adoption agreements did not contain information regarding sibling search rights.

Under current law, adopted individuals are not without a remedy if they want to determine whether they have any siblings. They currently can register with the Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry. The voluntary registry allows natural parents, adoptees, and siblings to register and have identifying information released and disclosed to those who have chosen to register and desire to share identifying information. The fact of registering ensures that the individuals are aware of an adoption. The registry contains approximately 2,200 listings.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 232.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.