Monday, February 20, 2012

Elizabeth Bartholet & David Smolin Debate International Adoption

Fleasbiting is excited to announce a written debate between Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet and Samford University Law Professor (and our own Fleasbiting blogger) David Smolin.  The debate will comprise a chapter in the upcoming book, "Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices, and Outcomes" edited by Judith L. Gibbons (Saint Louis University) and Karen Smith Rotabi (Virginia Commonwealth University) to be published by Ashgate Publishing in June 2012.  

The book can be pre-ordered online for a discount at Ashgate Publishing.  Frankly though, at a discounted cost of $108, it is priced more for serious research and university libraries than for personal or public libraries....which is why we're excited to have permission from the publishers to post the debate on-line where we can all read it.  I'll get to posting the link in a minute.  First things first....

Terms of the Debate:

Professors Bartholet and Smolin were each given the same three questions to answer independently (apart from each other, not knowing what the other's answer would be), and then one opportunity to respond to the other's answers.  Strict space limitations were enforced for both answers and responses.

This strictly controlled debate makes clear the two law professors' starkly different perspectives on the law, policies, and facts relevant to intercountry adoption.

I imagine that most readers of this blog will be familiar with Professor Elizabeth Bartholet.  She remains one of the more active, vocal, and well-known advocates for intercountry adoption (ICA)   Her many writings on intercountryadoption are either cited or else available for free download on her facultyweb page.

Likewise, most readers of this blog are likely familiar with Professor David Smolins' writings on international adoption.  Some can be found here on Fleasbiting; but most of Professor Smolin's writings on intercountry adoption are available for free download on his bepress webpage.

David Smolin says about the debate:  

The debate illustrates my argument that advocates for ICA, such as Prof. Bartholet, unintentionally undermine ICA by denying and minimizing the abuses and resisting necessary regulations on money, intermediaries, and agency accountability that could reduce those abuses.  Some ICA advocates (like Professor Bartholet) also minimize the significance of the losses and difficulties for adoptees of the trans-racial, trans-cultural, and trans-national nature of ICA, as well as the trauma to family and child of the loss of relationship between child and original family.  Although purportedly pro-ICA, I think this approach is contributing to its destruction.
By contrast, Prof. Bartholet classifies me with anti-ICA forces whom she sees as destructive of the best interests of children.   She perceives ICA as under assault from such forces.
In the midst of this debate are questions about the numbers and characteristics of “unparented” children (or orphans) in “need” of ICA, the extent of abusive practices, the significance and interpretation of the subsidiary principle and of relevant international law, and the nature of interventions short of full adoption.     

I look forward to comments (I hope respectful even if passionate!) on the debate or the issues it raises. 
And so without further ado, here is the link to the debate.  It will take you to the bepress site page for the debate.  To read the debate, click on the button to the left of the photo that says "download."  This will allow you to download the debate file (in pdf form) to your computer where you can read it:

Elizabeth Bartholet & David Smolin Debate International Adoption

Enjoy!  And again, as David said, comments and debate on the issues it raises are welcome.  Please post those comments here as there is nowhere to post comments on the bepress site.


"The Debate" between Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin, currently pre-published on the internet by permission of the book publisher (see below) at bepress: Selected Works of David Smolin .

"The Debate" by Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin, to be a chapter in the upcoming book,
"Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices, and Outcomes" edited by Judith L. Gibbons (Saint Louis University) and Karen Smith Rotabi (Virginia Commonwealth University) to be published by Ashgate Publishing in June 2012.  The book is to include chapters by the following, many of whom are well known scholars, thinkers, and stakeholders in the field of adoption:  Peter Selman; Jonathan Dickens; Kathleen Ja Sook Berquist; Karen Smith Rotabi; Cristina Nedelcu and Victor Groza; Kay Johnson; Kelley McCreery Bunkers and Victor Groza; Kelley McCreery Bunkers, Karen Smith Rotabi, and Benyam Dawit Mezmur;  Femmie Juffer and Marinus H. van Ijzendoom; Laurie C. Miller; Monica Dalen; Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin; Judith L. Gibbons and Karen Smith Rotabi; Thomas M. Crea; Jesus Palacios; Rhoda Scherman; Hollee McGinnis; and Judith L. Gibbons and Karen Smith Rotabi.  The book is can be ordered online for a discount at Ashgate Publishing. Frankly though, at a discounted price of $108, it is priced more for serious research and university libraries than for personal or public libraries.


  1. I LOVE what David says in this piece and quoted him liberally on my blog:

    However, the first thing Bartholet said that stuck in my crow and David didn't challenge her on is the use of the knowingly inflated number of "orphans" as 143k. He also neglected to point out the fact that her biased opinions of adoption are based on her position in the adoption community as representing attorney's whose livelihood is based on the redistribution of children.

    For more about Prof. Bartholet, may I suggest a read of: Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Baby Selling? at:

  2. Mirah, David actually does address her statement about the number of orphans. See what is numbered as page 394, in David's response to Professor Bartholet's answers (which is the last section of the debate). Remember that he could not reply to her statement before then as according to the rules of the debate he wrote his answers to the three questions without seeing Professor Bartholet's answers. The response section was the only section written AFTER each had seen each other's answers and so the only section where each is able to respond to the other. I quote his response to Bartholet's quote of those numbers as it appears in his response section:

    "Professor Bartholet may be unconcerned about illicit sourcing of children because she assumes that with so many children in obvious need of intercountry adoption, it is not much of an
    issue. This picture of virtually endless numbers of children in need of intercountry adoption is misleading. For example, Professor Bartholet uses the estimate of 143 million orphans (presumably from UNICEF), while ignoring the clarification from UNICEF that their various estimates of “orphans” include those who have lost only one parent. Hence, about 90 percent of such “orphans” are still living with a parent, and thus are not relevant to discussions of the need for intercountry adoption. Similarly misleading is Professor Bartholet’s presumption that Chinese orphanages still are overwhelmed with large numbers of baby girls, despite strong evidence that the numbers of healthy infants in Chinese orphanages has been sharply reduced, in part through (illegal but prevalent) sex selective abortion. Similarly, Professor Bartholet ignores extensive evidence that
    there are increasing numbers of domestic adoptions—and waiting lists for domestic adoption of healthy babies of both genders—in nations such as China and India. There are, I would argue,
    relatively few healthy babies or toddlers truly in need of intercountry adoption."

    I'll reply to the rest of your comment in another comment since, for some reason, blogger suddenly doesn't allow longer comments.


  3. I understand some orphan ministries have now inflated the number of 'orphans' to 163 million or more! 'true' number appears to be somewhere around 8 million.
    Thanks for the link I look forward to reading and digesting!

  4. Thank you David for all your hard work!
    (FB page called Adoption Trauma)

  5. I was confused by her position on the best interests of THE child being served, and yet when speaking about corruption switched to the greater good meme by pretty much suggesting ignoring the fraud of some adoptions because other adoptions were not fraudulent. Can't have it both ways.

    Your comments were very on point and you also pointed out that some older are not able to adjust to an inter-country adoption. That is perhaps one of the saddest parts of all because then those children become the subject of under-ground rehoming (can be multiple times) due to disruption of the original adoptive family once they are here. The under-ground rehoming (even if legally adopted again) is not tracked by the government so therefore does not exist. That is something that must be stopped - if a disruption must take place, then it must be part of the statistics those making decisions and laws need to be aware of. I recognise a few are surrendered via the state and those appear in the statistics but I would suggest they are the minority. (not worded very well - hope you understand the gist of what I am saying)

    I cannot understand why those "pro-adoption at any cost" such as EB do not lobby tirelessly for laws with real teeth in the US to prosecute the adoption agencies et al for fraudulent adoptions practices in the sending country through those they work with / contract with. If they were held accountable then they wouldn't be so quick as to turn a blind eye...

    If more people would just stop being afraid to speak out and be willing to talk about the hard subjects change could happen.

    Completely enjoyed the debate - well done.

  6. Do you realize that a flea is a parasite? You liberals think you are smarter than everyone else. What kind of moron uses an a metaphor that portrays himself as the parasite?

  7. The debate was terrific, thank you for your continued work, David, Desiree and Usha.

    faithwalk, this is the kind of moron who uses this metaphor:

    “You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.” Marian Wright Edelman

  8. Lest there be any doubt, my point is that the metaphor is one used by very smart people - like Marian Wright Edelman and the authors of this blog - who understand that many small actions can make significant changes. There's nothing moronic about that.

  9. Of course small actions can make big changes and sometimes being a pain is necessary to accomplish things. I just think it is an offensive metaphor even though it may be true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, I don't think the ends justify the means and Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals come to mind.
    The bigger concern I have and I have posted on some of the other topics, is painting with a big brush and politicizing of adoption.
    Negativity is all over the news media and most books about adoption. It is a wonder that anyone adopts at all with all the negatives that are out there. But the true life stories of the people that I know who have been involved in adoption, and they are many, all are positive.

  10. The debate is illuminating generally and David does a good job addressing the issues and ideological statements by the adoption-at-any-costs proponents. More specifically I found the remark by Bartholet interesting that she assumes that the slowdown of Ethiopian adoptions has to do with a deal between the State Department, UNICEF and the Ethiopian gvt, in which 100mio. Dollars were exhanged for a cut down in adoptions. Does this ring true to you? From a European perspective this is hard to understand given the claim about the power of the American adoption lobby. Is there a fight with the adoption industry over IA? Is the government position more critical than meets the eye?

  11. Desiree, I was wondering what the best way to contact David might be? I just read his recent article in which he referenced my book "A Passion for the Fatherless." I thought it was very well-argued and I'd love to be able to contact him and share some thoughts I had. My email address is (all one word): daniel at bethany community church dot org.

  12. Faithwalk needs an education. I've been involved in the adoption community for decades and "the true live stories" I've witnessed, been directly involved with, and have seen lived out encompass as many "negative" scenarios as "positive" ones.