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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Depressed Iowan Can’t Open Adoption Records

(CN) - A 51-year-old alcoholic with a "hole in her soul" cannot find out who her birth parents are to help soothe her anxiety, depression and substance abuse, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled.

When a woman named in court records as R.D. was born in Iowa in 1965, her adoption records were sealed, as required by state law, which then did not allow biological parents to consent to disclosure of their identities.

After R.D.'s adoptive parents told her when she turned six that she was adopted, she "felt like somebody gave [her] up" because they did not love her, whereas her adoptive family was loving and supportive, she claims.

R.D., now 51 and a professor at a prestigious university, says that, to avoid another abandonment, she became obsessed with being the best at everything, earning advanced degrees.

Yet R.D.'s "lack of knowledge about her origins increasingly caused anxiety and depression," so she began self-medicating with alcohol in her 30s, according to court records.

R.D. says she voluntarily checked herself into a Minnesota rehab center in 2007, ultimately joining Alcoholics Anonymous, but failed to stay sober consistently.

A psychiatric social worker diagnosed R.D., who said she felt like she had a "hole in [her] soul," with alcohol dependence, anxiety disorder, and depression in May 2013, court records show.

About a year later, Dr. Anthony Pane Jr., a psychologist, reportedly pinned R.D.'s adoption as the issue behind her substance abuse and depression.

R.D. then asked the Linn County District Court to unseal her adoption records "due to significant medical issues."

But the court, without contacting the birth parents, denied R.D.'s request, finding no medical and developmental history in the adoption record.

Though R.D. wrote the court a second letter on March 16, 2015, and presented her doctors' depositions to the juvenile court on May 4 of last year, the court denied her petition.

Despite recognizing R.D.'s "need to know," the court held that confidentiality is paramount in Iowa's adoption statutes.

R.D. appealed, but the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling Friday.

"The medical testimony persuades us that disclosure of the identities of R.D.'s parents would assist the treatment of her alcoholism and related depression and anxiety," Judge Thomas Waterman wrote. "She is able to maintain sobriety for periods of time and then relapses. Continued alcohol abuse jeopardizes her health and life. Her treating physician, psychotherapist, and psychiatric social worker identify her unsatisfied quest to discover her origins as a root cause of her alcohol abuse. Yet, they can offer no assurances that her problems will resolve upon her discovery of the identities of her biological parents or what will follow."

The judge later added, "R.D.'s yearning to identify her birth parents is undoubtedly shared by most adoptees. That yearning alone is insufficient to open sealed adoption records."

Though R.D. provided the necessary medical evidence for the court to consider opening the records, state law protects biological parents' identities, the ruling states.

"In some cases, the court could allow disclosure of medical information from the adoption records, without revealing the names of the biological parents," Waterman wrote. "Here, the adoption records contain no medical information, and all R.D. wants to know is the names of her biological parents. The juvenile court correctly denied that request. To hold otherwise would substantially undermine the statutory confidentiality assured to parents who make the painful decision to give up a child for adoption."

R.D.'s attorney, Peter Gardner with Meardon, Sueppel & Downer in Iowa City, did not return a request for comment emailed Monday.

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