What Is A Legal And Ethical Adoption?

This guest post is by Pamela, an adoptive mother. 

What makes an adoption legal and ethical?

This is a question being asked by so many hopeful adoptive parents and adoptive parents right now with all of the controversy surrounding Paul Petersen and others involved in seemingly unscrupulous adoption practices.

Paul Petersen is an attorney in Arizona who allegedly engaged in unethical and illegal activity placing Marshallese babies for adoption with American families.

He is accused of breaking numerous laws including human trafficking. He has been arrested along with several other people.

I feel that now that National Adoption Month is here, this would be a good time to have a discussion about what constitutes a legal and ethical adoption.


First, a bit of background: I’m an adoptive parent twice over via private adoption. My oldest was born in Michigan and my youngest in South Carolina. We live in New York.

New York adoption law is quite strict and as a result, I think it leads to ethical adoptions. Attorneys can not match hopeful adoptive parents with expectant mothers/couples.

In New York, hopeful adoptive parents can only support an expectant mother financially when needed for a total of three months thus preventing the wealth a hopeful adoptive parents may have to sway a woman in poverty to place her baby.

For that matter, no money is given directly to an expectant mother. Her bills are paid directly to the creditor. An expectant mother is offered counseling and provided her own legal counsel, even in an agency situation.

Michigan law is similar. South Carolina law, on the other hand, leaves a lot of room for coercive acts. In South Carolina, an expectant mom is represented or counseled by a social worker from the hopeful adoptive parents’ attorney’s office.

She can receive “financial support” for many months. Adoption attorneys can make matches. In my case, my attorney only received payment IF the baby was placed for adoption and that adoption was finalized.

In the 10 years since I began this journey, I have learned so much. I’ve learned that what is legal and what is morally ethical are often two totally different things.

So since what is legal isn’t always what is ethical let’s talk about what makes an adoption ethical. To begin with, ethical adoption is free of coercion, even subtle coercion—mom has a complete understanding of her rights given to her by someone who has no financial interest in her placing.

Mom has her own independent counseling and attorney. She has been counseled about programs and opportunities to support her in parenting her child.

She has been given the opportunity to be with her baby after birth however long and in whatever capacity she wants before signing consents for adoption.

Speaking of consents, she can take as long as she wants to decide to sign the consents or not. She can change her mind and revoke her consent for a reasonable amount of time.

She hasn’t been compensated for placing but has had her needs met if she was unable to do so during and post-pregnancy. She has chosen the adoptive family on her terms.

The hopeful family has been open and honest with her and intends to keep their word. They’ve treated her the way they’d want their own daughter treated.

Desires of openness have been discussed and will be honored. She is fully supported in changing her mind and parenting her baby.

In my case, I do have some regrets about the things I did or said during the process. But all in all, I can look at my sons in their eyes and tell them exactly what I did and how I did it without shame.

Pamela is a special educator, literacy coach, mother of two boys through (private) open adoptions, and a former foster parent. She is the owner of 2Boys Adoption Social Media Marketing and has been teaching teachers and adoptive families how to use the internet to connect with others for more than 7 years.

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