DNA Testing for Adoptees

DNA Testing for Adoptees

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted August 6, 2007 in DNA Testing, DNA and Genealogy, DNA in General

Adoptees often seek DNA testing because they want to learn more about their birth parents, ethnic background, or gene-related medical history. DNA tests also have other surprising roles in adoption.

adoptionFor example. a number of organizations serve families who’ve adopted children, usually girls, from China and other countries such as Korea. The a-China DNA Project has the lofty goal of not only creating a DNA database for matching adopted Chinese siblings, but also for anyone of Chinese ancestry. Co-directors Mary Coolbaugh-Murphy and Mary Ebejer clearly believe in the power of DNA.

In closing, we know nothing about our children’s medical histories. However, contained in the tubes of their DNA, is a wealth of information that can benefit both them and people of Chinese descent around the world. If the predominant registry were to allow medical, social, anthropological, and psychological researchers from within the Chinese adoption community access to the anonymous (de-identified) DNA, we could learn so much about our children. We could learn about their genetic genealogy—not who their specific parents were, but who their ancestors were. We could learn if they are predisposed to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. We could learn if those with attachment sensitivities have a genetic basis to their behavior, which combined with their early trauma of abandonment, led to their problems—and could start treatment with early detection. Not to learn from the wealth of information inherent in a DNA database would be so sad.

DNA tests will also play a role in the adoption of Guatemalan babies. The US government is now requiring two DNA tests for all adoptions. First, to match the birth mother with the child then a second to confirm the identity of the child when the adoptive parents are ready to leave Guatemala to return to the US. The new requirement is a response to child traffickers and baby snatching.

In another Central American country, children adopted from El Salvador in the 1980’s during their civil war are using DNA tests to find their lost families. As part of the Pro Busqueda association, families are giving blood samples to aid in DNA matching of missing children and parents. Approximately 800 samples are currently stored and almost 70 families have been reunited using DNA. The News Hour with Jim Lehrer featured Angela Fillingim’s search for her biological mother in El Salvador. Other countries where DNA has been used to reunite families include Vietnam, Rwanda, Chile, Argentina, and North and South Korea.

toby dawson Olympic skier Toby Dawson was adopted from South Korea as an orphan but was finally reunited with his biological family in Korea earlier this year. He had been adopted by an American couple at age 3 when he ended up in an orphange after becoming separated from his mother in a market in Busan, South Korea. During the search for his biological parents, dozens of men came forth claiming to be his father. Kim Jae-su provided the DNA match.

Do you have any adoption and DNA stories to share?

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Comment by Blaine Bettinger Subscribed to comments via email

It’s an interesting exercise to imagine all the ways that adoptees will be affected by cheap genomic sequencing. For instance, I can picture huge adoptee databases that scour the world for sequences, or even for DNA.

Comment by Hsien

That would be totally wild and that’d be one big can of worms.

Comment by jhay

It will be a can of worms indeed. If perhaps they’d turn the database into a sort of national registry of the adoptees.

Or perhaps they could use this to track down their relatives and be reunited at last?

Comment by Hsien

There are so many different adoption stories that there will definitely be some joyful reunions and some angry ones too. :(

Comment by NA Subscribed to comments via email

Something that I would like to mention that is indirectly related to this topic is that this type of project can help with figuring out when a group of people with a genetic condition (i.e., Huntington Disease being brought to the USA by three English brothers who had HD) migrated to a new country. This way we can trace the evolutionary path that the disorder has taken in a family and families. We should do this for all major genetic disorders. We will then be able to see who is at the greatest risk for predisposition to the genetic disorder.

This is a project that I hope to have the chance to start working on very soon.

Comment by Hsien

That would certainly be interesting!


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