Life at Risk in Adoption Mess

Date: 
2005-05-04

Oksana Yablokova
Mocow Times

An American had hoped to adopt Renata in January, but the girl remains in Russia due to changes in the adoption law.

Delays brought on by changes in adoption law have meant headaches for would-be foreign parents, but they could be a matter of life and death for some orphans.

An American woman's adoption of a seriously ill 18-month-old girl in the Far East city of Khabarovsk was supposed to be finalized in January, but a new law passed by the State Duma in December has meant the child has had to stay in the country for four more months to ensure that no Russian parents might want to take her.

The girl, Renata, has a congenital heart defect that requires urgent surgery, and she will die if she is not operated on soon, said Tatyana Nikolayevskaya, chief doctor at Khabarovsk Orphanage No. 2, where Renata lives with 120 other young orphans with congenital diseases.

"She is stable now but is on medication all the time and needs to undergo surgery very soon," Nikolayevskaya said by telephone.

Nikolayevskaya took Renata to Novosibirsk last spring, but doctors turned them away, saying it did not make any sense to perform the expensive operation because the girl would not get proper care afterward and would die anyway.

Then in the fall, a U.S.-based adoption agency, CHSF, helped arrange a meeting between Renata and an American actress who was looking to adopt. Jane Macfie, who has appeared on Broadway and is a founding member of the Pasadena Shakespeare Company in California, flew to Khabarovsk in November and immediately decided to adopt the girl.

Back in the United States, Macfie made arrangements for Renata's heart surgery but then found out that she would have to wait for months to bring the child home. Under amendments that went into force on Jan. 1, Russian parents have eight months to adopt newly orphaned children before foreign parents have the opportunity to do so. A new orphan is first placed in a regional database for two months and then in a federal database for six months. Previously, newly orphaned children were put in a federal database for three months.

Nikolayevskaya said the waiting period for Renata had just ended and the Khabarovsk regional court now needed to set a date for a final hearing to rule on her adoption.

A court official said by telephone that by law the court has two months to set a date for a hearing but suggested that it would be scheduled for mid-May.

Calls to Macfie's home number in California went unanswered. But she told Izvestia recently that she was very worried. "I do not know the date of the hearing, and I think about how I will go to Russia and bring my girl here 24 hours a day," she said in remarks published in Russian. "The girl is very ill, and I am very worried about her."

CHSF adoption officials declined to comment on the case.

Luckily for Renata, Moscow's Bakulev Heart Surgery Institute recently agreed to operate on her for free if Macfie is not able to adopt her soon, Nikolayevskaya said.

However, her case spells out flaws in the new legislation that reduces the small chances that orphans with congenital disease had for adoption to nothing, Nikolayevskaya said. Adoptions at Khabarovsk Orphanage No. 2 are rare, and when they happen the children go to foreign parents, she said.

"Russian parents never adopt children with clear disorders," Nikolayevskaya said.

Even an official at the Education and Science Ministry, which was put in charge of processing adoptions under the new legislation, expressed doubt about whether the changes would will help increase domestic adoptions. "The law is the same for everybody and makes no exceptions for ill and very ill children. Why? Ask the lawmakers who passed such laws," said the official, who works for the ministry's child protection department and refused to give his name.

The new legislation was drafted by Yekaterina Lakhova, the firebrand head of the Duma's Women, Family and Youth Affairs Committee. She was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.

"I agree that tougher control should be placed over a child's future, but these days we cannot afford restricting international adoptions because the number of orphans is not going down," Nikolayevskaya said.

The current federal database run by the Education and Science Ministry includes 175,000 children eligible for adoption. Of the nearly 15,000 orphans adopted last year, 7,500 children were taken home by foreign parents.

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