The rights of children in reproductive technology and adoption

HSV Public Lecture by Maggie Millar at Balwyn Library on Thursday 24 July 2014

The speaker, Maggie Millar, well-known actor, gave a forceful and personal account of her awakening to the knowledge that she was an orphan, an adopted child. Growing up she found it difficult to understand why she felt different. This led to her restlessness and attempts to unlock the secret of her birth.

Maggie gave instances of the lost child in history – Oedipus Rex, the myth of the Sun and the Mother, Camelot and Luke Skywalker. She felt fortunate eventually to find her mother. However, based on her experience and that of others, she suggested there would always be pain with the separation from the birth mother which can lead to a greater likelihood of psychological disturbances.

Maggie explained that it was quite common to claim of adoption, as many did, ‘it’s in the best interests of the child.’ The sense of illegitimacy which comes with the term ‘wards of the state’ has had profound effects on the emotional lives of orphans. She declared, ‘no-one has the authority to bar the right of the child to find its mother.’ She cited Donald Winnicott as saying the mother/child relationship is as one, with separation resulting in the trauma of emotional loss and abandonment.

Deborah-Lee Furness and Hugh Jackman, along with Prime Minister Abbott, have made public claims to promote the adoption of children from third-world countries as a gesture of humanity. However, many others have condemned adoption as creating a ‘primal wound’ which separates the child from its parents without regard to the rights of the child. The loss of contact with the birth mother frequently leads to irritability, sleeplessness, depersonalisation, aggression and acting out. It misses the point that bonding with the mother is a source of understanding. The behaviour of the orphan can be difficult but not abnormal as a result of the separation. The loss of identity and self-esteem can also lead to problems at school. Maggie was 17 years old before she became aware of her adopted status, resulting in erratic behaviour and deeply felt anger.

She pointed out that when Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke in parliament about children taken from Britain and sent to Australia, there was a cry of pain from the gallery. It was clear that there was a lack of understanding of the harm to the psyche which no-one was acknowledging. Indeed it was based on deceit and lies.

Then there is evidence of trafficking of children which has shown a recent increase. To our shame groups, like American evangelists, are harvesting children from poorer countries like Korea. The mothers hand over their children to relieve their poverty. UNICEF defines a child as over 5 years.

More recently is the problem of surrogacy with the similar effect of mother/child separation. It is illegitimate and unethical but provides an income for poor Indian and Thai families. This is occurring because the stigma of the unmarried mother is disappearing from moral concerns. Similar attitudes are current with sperm donation, which she describes as a dereliction of responsibility on the part of the donor.

In time her ‘acting out’ gave rise to a career in the theatre and a part in the soap, ‘Neighbours’. Maggie credits Robert Bender, a member of HSV, with help in locating Jigsaw, the organisation that helps orphans to find their parents. Her experience leads her to argue for adoption only as a last resort, as it usually far better to gather help from relatives and family to protect the future of a child.

As for the ever increasing numbers of orphans, the result of wars and natural disasters, there seems little hope.

Report by Howard Hodgens

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