Dear State of Michigan: I just want my original birth certificate, now!

I am attempting to secure my original birth certificate from the State of Michigan. You can watch my video highlighting my request for my original record of birth.

If you were not adopted, you are entitled to this document. It provides you legal proof of who you are and, as important, information about your family, which is the foundation to knowing your ancestry. If you are not adopted, you will never have to face obstacles for the most basic information and not know what it means to be denied essential information about who you are.

Today,  one’s ancestry is widely considered one of the important pieces of information for a human to have. Medically, having access to one’s family history is considered a best health practice by all medical professionals. Nearly all dental and medical professionals ask for this information.

Access to original birth records is a national health and public health priority

The National Institutes of Health highlights why every person needs to know their family history--it can be a matter of life and death with cancer.
The National Institutes of Health highlights why every person needs to know their family history–it can be a matter of life and death with cancer.

Adoptees like all other Americans should by legal right be entitled to this potentially life-saving information. The National Institutes for Health reports there are more than 6,000 genetic and rare diseases. These afflict more than 25 million Americans, and about 30 percent of early deaths can be linked to genetic causes. Genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers, the second leading killer of all Americans, topped only by heart disease. Researchers have associated mutations in specific genes with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes, which are disorders that may mean some individuals are more likely to develop certain cancers.

For its part, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) identifies the role of genomes in other health issues, such as birth defects, chronic diseases, and congenital heart defects, and the CDC has created the Office of Public Health Genomics to promote research in the field. The U.S. Surgeon General in 2004 declared a Family History Health Day, on Thanksgiving, to promote greater awareness on the critical role of family medical history to promoting health—and by family history the nation’s leading medical advocate means only genetic family history. Family medical histories can identify people with a higher risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. A family medical history can also provide risks of rarer conditions caused by mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.

Groups like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also use family health history information to recommend national screening and preventive services for conditions such as osteoporosis, hyperlipidemia, and breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection recently included changes in mammography recommendations that use family health history in decisions when a woman should begin mammography in persons with a family history where breast cancer is a known risk.

Ignore science and evidence and deny, deny, deny

To date, Michigan has prevented me for more than a quarter of a century from getting this document, by law. This is, on its face, discrimination against me simply because I am an adopted person. No other group of persons in Michigan, not even convicted felons, are denied this document on the basis of their status at birth.

The Wayne County Probate Court and my adoption agency, formerly Lutheran Children’s Friend Society of Michigan, did release most of my identifying information to me, however. But that was only after I found my birth family, spending two years searching, at great investment of my time, financial resources, and energy. They were compelled by law to release this information they once hid from me, in theory to promote some abstract benefit that is not proven anywhere in any research. I received no help from the adoption bureaucracy to secure my original records. Even though I have a copy of documents bearing my original birth name, my medical records during my adoption, my adoption decree, and other legal documents, the state’s outdated and archaic adoption bureaucracy has refused to discuss and work with me to obtain what I am legally entitled to: my original birth certificate.

To try and speed up this process, I am communicating directly with Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services asking the leader of this state agency to resolve this simple bureaucratic records request without delay. I will have sent that document to Director Nick Lyon on March 21, 2016. I am excerpting below some of that request. In that note I outlined how Michigan openly discriminates against people by status of being adopted.

Legalized discrimination against adoptees, Michigan style. Yes, felons can get their certificates, but adoptees cannot.
Legalized discrimination against adoptees, Michigan style. Yes, felons can get their certificates, but adoptees cannot. This is published by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, outlining state law restricting rights for adoptees.

My goal is only to obtain what I should have been given years ago, and without further delay. By writing about this issue, I also hope to highlight how discriminatory state adoption laws continue to harm hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and deny them equal treatment under the law. Closed records are widely acknowledged by nearly all evidence to be harmful to birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive families. My story is just a small piece of that larger story. One story at a time, state laws might be changed. I am not expecting that to happen any time soon, however.

Excerpt of Letter to Director Lyon:

Laws that your legislatures have passed concerning adoption no longer apply to me, as I have already found my birth families, now for more than 26 years, in 1989. There is no longer any compelling state interest or legal or other rationale that justifies the state of Michigan holding an original record and what is mine by birthright. I know my original name (Scott Douglas Owens). …

However, your adoption staff personnel refused to discuss this situation with me when I called the Central Adoption Registry in October 2015. A staff member there returned my call but refused to discuss my legal reality that bypasses the need for me to fill out Form 1919 (Parent’s Consent/Denial to Release Information to Adult Adoptee). … When I tried to explain I already know everything about my birth family and birth records, she still told me, in essence, “Fill out the damn form.” It was one of the most embarrassing calls I have had with anyone in public service in my life, and I’ve spent decades serving the public now as a professional.

… this form is no longer legally required. The alleged purpose of the law is to supposedly provide a benefit to birth parents and adoptees, even in the face of overwhelming evidence such legal barriers are antiquated and all sides in adoption want to know each other. In this case, there is no longer any compelling legal justification to delay the release of my original birth record now. I already know my family. I already have my other birth records. I just want my original birth certificate.

10 thoughts on “Dear State of Michigan: I just want my original birth certificate, now!

  1. Rudy Owens March 23, 2016 / 10:58 pm

    Since publishing this essay, I have already received one clumsy and poorly executed call from a lower-level state official in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who was on a legal fishing expedition to see what my intent was (really, they didn’t know after reading my letter?) and to tell me, “the law is the law.” Essentially, this person, who has no actual authority in the organization to make a decision about my record, tried to tell me the state would not honor my request, because a law prevents sharing information about my identity that I’ve already proven I have, while also knowing my birth family for more than 25 years. The state must defend itself from all threats, particularly having open birth records and serving people it discriminates against: adult adoptees who had perhaps the misfortune of being born adoptive bastards in Michigan in my birth decade.

    It will be interesting to see what the state’s next steps are. Their first move was very disappointing–a call from a phone whose number was blocked, an effort to say, sorry, even though there is no justification to hold your original birth record, we are going to do it all the same because we can. I wonder if anyone in this government has learned anything from the state’s public relations crisis of confidence over the last eight months. Does anyone following Michigan’s crisis management ability believe that responsible state officials are able to make reasonable, flexible decisions we expect of our public officials, who are accountable to the public they serve. I would be very disappointed to be a Michigan resident if the first call I received is the standard of service provided by public officials.

  2. Lotr Cat April 4, 2016 / 1:51 pm

    Michigan early 1960’s ‘baby scoop era’ adoptee, birth mother stayed at Detroit’s Flor Critt home and I was born in Flor Critt hospital. Received my non-identifying information from the state of MI in early 1980’s and it took a decade before I was able to complete my search.

    ” “Fill out the damn form.” It was one of the most embarrassing calls I have had with anyone in public service in my life,”

    I can top that. My non-id records contained my birthmother’s surname but it was too common to search on without the benefit of having her given name. I knew that MI law (at least back then) couldn’t give out identifying information but at the same time they couldn’t deny identifying information known to the adoptee. So I called the state of Michigan:
    “I know that my biological mother’s name begins with the letter A”
    “I’m sorry but I can’t give you that information”
    “I know my biological mother’s name begins with the letter B”
    “I’m sorry but I can’t give you that information”
    “I know my biological mother’s name begins with the letter C”
    “I’m sorry but I can’t give you that information”
    (This game continued on down the alphabet until…)
    “I know my biological mother’s name begins with the letter S”
    “Yes, that is correct”
    “I know that my biological mother’s name is Sharon”
    “I’m sorry but I can’t give you that information”
    “I know my biological mother’s name is Susan”
    “Yes, that is correct”
    “Thank you, goodbye”

    That was the most demeaning experience of my life. Had I not experienced that before applying for my passport, I probably would have thought that needing Senator Levin to get my passport for me was the most demeaning experience of my life.

  3. Rudy Owens April 4, 2016 / 9:29 pm

    You actually received information from the state. I was denied information by the state, the Wayne County Probate Court, and Lutheran Children and Family Services. Information was only released when a signed waiver was submitted, and the court and adoption agency, by force of law, finally gave me most but not all of my birth records. They had stonewalled me for nearly two years. Now, all I want is the birth certificate, which the state is refusing to surrender, incorrectly interpreting law they claim protects my certificate, from, I suppose, myself, even though I know my name and family already? This is Michigan, which has proven to be a poster child of failed decision-making in the public interest as seen in the handling of the Flint public health crisis.

    • Lotr Cat April 5, 2016 / 9:59 am

      State adoption laws are always changing. I don’t know when you requested your records but the year may have been a factor as to why I received mine and you couldn’t. I do know that the state of MI took custody of Flor Critt records after they closed their Home. Flor Critt was the adoption agency responsible for placing me so the state had my mother’s intake records from the Flor Critt home, my Flor Critt hospital records, the home visit records and all of the probate court records. I received well over 20 pages of photocopies of the original documents with all identifying information cutout (literally!). Over 20 pages of Swiss cheese. Your mother, like mine, stayed at Flor Critt Home so I hope you received the intake document and the social worker/caseworker psychoanalysis of her during her stay. It’s an unbelievable read that gave me a front row seat to the social values of the 60’s. Horrifying and fascinating! If they didn’t give you those docs, go back and get them!

      My search for my mother sadly ended at her grave. My search for a shared genetic ancestral lineage also ended at her grave. She was an adoptee herself and the state denies my request for her non-identifying information because I’m not her legal child. There’s nothing on my birth certificate that I don’t already know but it’s mine. I want it! I’m getting ready to harass the state of Michigan for my original birth certificate. Hopefully more MI adoptees will join. Good on you for your video, your articles and your fight. Nice job. I’ll be watching closely.

  4. Rudy Owens April 5, 2016 / 12:32 pm

    Great story, and probably all too familiar.

  5. Deb Staley May 28, 2016 / 4:59 pm

    Excellent read. Thank you for it! I’m a Missouri adoptee (1959), & MO is an ass-backwards state too, with closed records. But I’m active in a group that is making progress. Best of luck.

  6. Rudy Owens May 28, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    Thanks Deb. I think this needs to be more about luck. It requires a lot of work, organizing, shaming, winning allies, presenting evidence, asserting strong constitutional rights (under the 14th amendment) and human rights claims. So with that, I hope your work is smart, productive, and meaningful with an outcome that advances our regressive laws. Michigan is committed to a system that is trapped in a 1965 time warp that classified unwed birth mothers as mentally unstable and a shame to society and that believed that hiding a child’s identity provided some benefit. Both ideas have long been proven to be wrong and harmful to everyone, including society. States are reluctant to apologize and change, given that adoption is a political poster child for many interest groups in the USA–so adoptee rights are held hostage to advance other agendas. This needs to be a national issue, not a state-by-state issue. Cheers!

  7. Rudy Owens May 28, 2016 / 5:09 pm

    Deb, also appreciate your efforts to work on meaninful political reform here! Well done.

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