Family Bonds: Adoption, Infertility, New World of Child Production, by Elizabeth Bartholet

Family Bonds: Adoption, Infertility, and the New World of Child Production

by Elizabeth Bartholet

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Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 288pp. 
ISBN: 0807028037
Publisher: Beacon Press 
Pub. Date: October 1999

Description from


The Harvard Law School professor critiques the current laws and practices surrounding adoption, discussing international and domestic law, common reasons for adoption, and the definition of family. 15,000 first printing. Tour. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Description from


Bartholet, a "Harvard Law School professor, journeyed to Peru in 1985 to adopt a child. In this account, she argues that . . . discrimination by age of parents, sexual preference, race, disabilities, and country of origin should be outlawed. Bartholet also maintains that society must reject the {idea}. . . that adoptive families are second-best to biologically based families." (Libr J) Index.


Now in paperback--the definitive book on infertility, adoption, and the new reproductive technologies, by the nation's leading expert on adoption and related parenting issues. In this passionate book, Professor Bartholet questions current thinking about parenting and challenges the legal system, the bureaucracies, and the social attitudes which hinder the adoption process.

Description from The Reader's Catalog

Bartholet examines the emotional and legal aspects of adoption, and looks at the domestic and international laws that often leave would-be parents childless and deny homes to parentless children. The mother of two adopted children, Bartholet draws on her own triumphs and disappointments as well as the most recent legal rulings. "A seminal volume"--Kirkus Reviews

From the Publisher

In Family Bonds, Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet raises profound questions about the meaning of family and the way society shapes options for the infertile. Illumined by the author's compelling personal story, the book challenges the societal policies that help shape adoption, infertility treatment, surrogacy, and other new parenting arrangements. Family Bonds will encourage and enlighten all who struggle with infertility and the decision whether to pursue treatment, adoption, or other parenting options. It will compel the attention of doctors, lawyers, child welfare workers, and policymakers. In her poignant and controversial book, Bartholet examines policies that leave children without homes and would-be parents without children. She questions the wisdom of driving women to spend years in infertility treatment while pushing them away from adoption. She talks about transracial and transnational families, single and older-parent families. She forces us to think about our goals for the family of the future. Uniquely qualified to write this book, Bartholet is a recognized expert on civil rights and family law who has raised one child born to her, endured her own struggle with infertility, and recently adopted as a single parent two children born in Peru.

From the Critics

From M.E. Elwell - Choice
Although the book is intended to raise consciousness and change adoption policies, it is also an excellent example of feminist writing from the personal to the political. Bartholet effectively combines literary traditions of academic policy research and personal reflection. . . . {Her} eloquent plea for policies to facilitate adoptive family building is accessible to general as well as academic or professional audiences.

From Maria McFadden - National Review
{This is a} powerful, fascinating indictment of the adoption process. AsProfessor Bartholet discovered, would-be parents are subjected to the most intrusive and restrictive screenings, miles of bureaucratic red tape, exorbitantfees, and unsubstantiated horror stories in the media portraying adoption as fraught with danger. Very few 'desirable' children (i.e., healthy white infants) are available for adoption in the U.S., but thousands of people wish to beparents, and thousands of older, minority, and handicapped children are rendered unadoptable by the maze of laws favoring biological parents' rights and opposing trans-racial adoption.

From Daniel Goldstine - The New York Times Book Review
{The author} marshals a powerful array of empirical psychological evidence and constitutional arguments to challenge current laws and policies regarding parenthood and adoption. . . . Interspersed among chapters that cut through much of today's accepted political and social cant on these issues is the poignant account of her personal journey. . . . But despite the evident passion and learning that infuse 'Family Bonds,' some reservations remain. Is it reallynecessary to denigrate in vitro fertilization in order to promote adoption? What will Ms. Bartholet say about the procedures as the science gets better, as it undoubtedly will?

From Library Journal
Bartholet, a single mother and Harvard Law School professor, journeyed to Peru in 1985 to adopt a child. In this account, she argues that the whole adoption business is antichild, antifamily, and antiparent. Nurturing should be central to parenting, not biological destiny, she claims, and adoption records should be open, not sealed. She persuasively argues that discrimination by age of parents, sexual preference, race, disabilities, and country of origin should be outlawed. Bartholet also maintains that society must reject the lie that adoptive families are second-best to biologically based families. The author backs her assertions with studies showing that adoption, even across racial lines, generally works well. Her book is thought-provoking, controversial, and sure to be discussed. Extensive footnotes are included. Highly recommended.-- Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, Pa.

From Publisher's Weekly - Publishers Weekly
After suffering 10 frustrating years of infertility treatments and various obstacles to adoption, Harvard law professor Bartholet, a divorced mother of a grown son, finally succeeded in adopting two Peruvian infant boys now four and seven--children ``clearly meant for me.'' In this engrossing account addressed both to women undergoing often futile, costly infertility treatments and to those fighting to adopt children, she eloquently advocates making international adoptions more available by reforming legal systems, as well as by screening and racial matching policies. The author further favors access to sealed birth records. Although she affirms that adoption is an honorable, ``positive alternative to biologic parenting,'' she also notes that ``parenting should not imply that the parent owns the child's affections or has a right to exclude alternative relationships.'' (May)

From Kirkus Reviews
A seminal volume on the worldwide mind-set that allows orphaned or unwanted children to waste away in institutions while childless adults struggle to breach the barriers that keep them from building families. Harvard Law School professor Bartholet writes from both personal and professional experience. She's the mother of a now- adult son born during a youthful marriage, as well as of two younger sons—aged four and seven—adopted when they were babies and she was a not-so-young divorced professional who wanted another child but could no longer conceive. Bartholet went through the humiliating process familiar to many, from facing doctors who explored and experimented with her reproductive system—with the implicit suggestion that she was unworthy since she could not become pregnant—to making applications for adoption and taking subsequent tests that probed her personal history from her early relationships with her parents through her current sex life. The author ultimately found her children in Peru—but only after enduring desperate weeks of frustration and fear as authorities sent her to and fro for physical and mental exams and in search of documents, official stamps, and verifications of her worthiness. Bartholet admits that she was lucky: Her knowledge of the system; the flexible schedule that enabled her to take months off while she navigated the Peruvian bureaucracy; her financial resources and Harvard credentials—all let her take home the infants she fell in love with. But why should it be so difficult? she asks. Why should there be barriers against interracial and international adoptions when the need is so great for both children and theirpotential parents? By combining expert legal discussion with affecting personal memoir, Bartholet offers an important exploration of the societal barriers to adoption, as well as invaluable support to would-be parents who face these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Table of Contents



1 Becoming an Adoptive Parent   1 

From Boston to Lima   1

The Adoption Process   15

2 Parenting Options for the Infertile: The Biologic Bias   24

Shaping Women and Their Choices   24

The Infertility Problem   29

Making Adoption the Last Resort   30

Correcting the Bias   35

3 Adoption: Tales of Loss and Visions of Connection   39

The Child Who Had to Be Returned   39

A Vision of Adoption's Potential   44

A Snapshot of Adoption's Realities   48

4 Adoption and the Sealed Record System   51

"I'm Going to Get Another Mummy"   51

Traditions and Trends   53

The Current Debate   57

The Mixed Messages Inherent in a Move to Openness   58

5 Adoption and the Parental Screening System   62

On Being Screened for Fitness   62

Assessing the System's Fitness   70

The Role of Money   73

Limits of the Current Reform Debate   74

An Alternative Vision   76

Eliminating the Current Screen   78

What Children Have to Gain   80

What Children Have to Lose   81

6 Adoption and Race   86

Early Fragments from One Transracial Adoption Story   86

The History   94

Current Racial Matching Policies   95

The Impact of Current Policies   99

The Empirical Studies   101

The Law   106

Directions for the Future   110

7 Adoption Among Nations   118

Scenes from the World of International Adoption   118

Current Significance and Future Prospects   141

The Role of Law   143

National Laws and Policies   145

International Law and the Hague Convention   149

Of Real Problems and Mythical Concerns   150

Directions for the Future   160

8 Adoption and Stigma   164

The Tradition: Blood Is Thicker than Water   165

New Sources of Stigma: Of Roots and the Tragic Triangle   171

The Studies: Of Modern-Day Myths and Realities   174

9 High-Tech Reproduction: In Vitro Fertilization and Its Progeny   187

A Woman Obsessed   187

An Abbreviated Picture of the IVF Treatment Process   198

A Rough Cost-Benefit Calculation   201

IVF's Regulatory Status: Variations on a Free Market Theme   209

Directions for the Future   213

10 Modern Child Production: The Marketing of Genes, Wombs, Embryos, and Babies   218

Afterword   230

Notes   237

Index   267

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