Health Disparities in Adoptee Community

I was struck by a number of posts on the K@W listserv related to health disparities and access to medical records. As Asian Americans, Korean Americans or other people of color, we are widely undocumented in relation to increased health risks regarding diseases.

A good friend of mine brought up the point that for many of us KADS, we are “a minority within a minority.” That is to say-we are Asian Americans, Korean Americans, and even smaller still-we are Korean Adoptees. There has generally been very little scholarly work published on health disparities in the Asian American communities, and even less for Korean Americans in this country due to our relatively small size in relation to other Asian American groups. These health risks can be elevated for women more than men for some diseases such as breast cancer, and osteoporosis.

Even more overlooked are Korean Adoptees’ health disparities especially when there is so much secrecy involved with birth parent rights and inaccessibility of health records for adult adoptees. Many of us are put in particularly precarious situations when next of kin (biologically) are out of reach or unable to be contacted in cases of need. I actually remember being in Korea a few years ago and asking if Holt would make a more concerted effort to track down my birth parents should my health be at risk, or should I need for instance ie (bone marrow transplants). I was told that they would do everything in their power to track them down, but something deep down tells me there is nothing really there to look for.

Again I come back to the struggle and psychological battle I wage with myself over access to information, and the protection of the adoptees’ rights over the birth parent(s)’ rights. It’s an extremely sensitive issue-an issue that is no closer to being solved in my mind than in any other adoptees’ I’m sure. How do we preserve our own right to understand our own genetic health whilst protecting the rights of our birth parents. At first it seems relatively easy to dissect. Why not have birth parents have genetic work-ups done upon relinquishment. But then you consider the ramifications of such a procedure including cost to agencies, psychological cost to birth parents, and then the inevitable question, “if birth parents knew they had to take these tests would they still relinquish their child for adoption? and “what level of responsibility as birth parents in cases of genetic need do our birth parents really have to us?” It’s a heavy burden as it is for many birth parents, and much more so if they were to be subjected to documentation of genetic histories.

But…It’s my right! That’s what I keep saying to myself. It’s my right to know WHO I AM, and what I could potentially be up against in the future. Adoptee or not, it is a question that some want to know, and some do not want to know. What are my chances of getting cancer, does my family have a history of heart disease etc. etc.? Many non-adoptees have this very ability to access their family geneology. Not all, but most have the ability to obtain these records whether information is passed on by fellow family members orally, or by professionals/doctors. What access do we as transracial adoptees have to this information? How is this right denied to us, and can this denial be considered a human rights violation? Perhaps that comes as an exaggeration for many, but when faced with a debilitating condition or disease-one that requires intensive medications, medical procedures etc.-you have to admit the thought of it can be overwhelming, and at times I’m sure helpless.

But I do believe that we as adoptees deserve to have access to these records regardless of whether we plan to look at them or not. And I stand in solidarity for all the adoptees who are battling for their lives with diseases and conditions that are beyond my comprehension. I believe strongly in the power of the community we have created as adoptees, and perhaps we don’t know our medical or family genetic histories, but we know that we are all in the same boat and that we will continue to stand together and create new histories together.

And to cheer many of you up after such a somber post, please check out this video!


korean baby singing hey jude


2 Comments on “Health Disparities in Adoptee Community

  1. hey!

    I know in the united states ( i was a domestic adoptee ) that people use “birthparents privacy” as an excuse to deny adoptees access to their records. In fact if you research the law however, there is no right to privacy written into law for surrendering parents.

    I have never studied the laws overseas, what are they? are you SURE that there is birthparent privacy written into law? I wasn’t and lots and lots of people still believe that its a fact that “birth”parents are legally entitled to that. I would check into it.

    I believe that when another humans rights “trump” anothers there is something wrong. I believe we deserve the information no matter the law and no matter the country. Its our right from where I stand and I don’t think another human should have the right to take that from us at will.

    Good luck to you 🙂

  2. I’m sorry because this comment is not directly toward your post. I am hoping, however, that you will take the time to read this, and make a future post based on the following information.

    I am currently interning at the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (GOA’L), located in Seoul, South Korea. I am writing to you with intentions of both providing you with information on, as well as asking for your assistance with our current campaign.

    As you may already know, GOA’L has been supporting overseas adoptees born in Korea since 1998. We are now lobbying for overseas adoptees’ right to hold a dual citizenship.

    At the bottom, I will include a link leading toward documents about our campaign. There is an information package which contains the specific details about our campaign. Within, issues such as military service and tax responsibilities are outlined. The second document is the petition form. We are hoping to obtain 50,000 signatures by December 2008. To reach this goal, the Korean overseas adopted community must come together. We cannot do this without your help.

    We would greatly appreciate your support in this campaign.

    You may also contact us at

    Thank you so much!

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