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  • A Personal Reflection on the Medical History Questions facing Adopted Persons
  • Mark A. Cotleur

I think it is important that I preface my reflection with a comment on the term “parent.” I want to be clear that when I use the term “adoptive parents” I do so only to make the distinction between my “biological parents” and my “adoptive parents.” Simply put, my adopted parents are my parents. The other couple are the people who conceived and bore me. They are not my parents.

I am a person who has known from my earliest memories, that I was adopted, and, at the same time, I am also someone who is extremely grateful that I was adopted by very caring, selfless parents who raised me in a loving and nurturing home. Having the book, “The Chosen Baby” read often to my adopted sister and me, and hearing a recounting of the stories of the journey our parents went through to adopt us, I have always known I was adopted. It was part of our family lexicon, and I always felt special and “chosen” as a result.

I make this point because I think this is important to note that the fact that I was adopted has rarely surfaced to the point where I was actively aware of it. I rarely think about the fact that I am adopted—let alone refer to myself as an “adoptee” or “adopted person.”

Interestingly enough, throughout my life, the topic has only surfaced in the context of discussing family medical history, which is why I am most interested in participating in this discussion.

I don’t know how other adopted persons feel about honoring the privacy of their biological parents, but I can say that, part and parcel of my gratitude for the family who adopted me, I have a sense of gratitude that is equally profound for my biological parents because of the difficult decision they made to “offer me up” for adoption. As a parent myself who feels the strongest bond to my two daughters, I have to believe that there was a strong bond my biological parent felt as well. Yet, they knew the right decision for my future was adoption, so I truly believe that the word “offering” is the most appropriate word to describe their other-centered action. For this reason, I have always considered the privacy and anonymity of my biological parents to be truly sacrosanct. They made the difficult decision to pursue adoption on my behalf based, in part, on the understanding that their privacy would be honored. This promise of privacy is imperative for those making such a heart-wrenching decision and so I think that they have every right to expect this promise would be honored going forward.

I was adopted through Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Cleveland in Ohio. I was born in 1964 at St. Ann’s Hospital and cared for by the Sisters [End Page 116] of Charity of Saint Augustine (CSA) at the DePaul Infant Home for the first 10 months of my life, before being adopted and brought home on March 17, (Saint Patrick’s Day) 1965. (Interestingly, I am now employed as a senior vice president for the Sisters of Charity Health System—the very organization brought me into the world, and cared for me as an infant before being adopted.)

At the time I was adopted, my parents were given minimal background information for me. They were merely told I was “half Irish and half Slovak.” (I recently completed an DNA analysis which pretty much confirmed my nationality—44% Irish, 48% Eastern European, 8% Western European. I have also seen others with the database appear in my family tree as potential 2nd and 3rd cousins, and even a high likelihood 1st cousin.) My parents received virtually no information on my family medical history—no medical information on my biological parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

Throughout my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, I was fortunate to have been in overall good health. Thus, during these years, when questions pertaining to my family medical history were raised on the physical exam forms, and...


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pp. 116-118
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