exposing the dark side of adoption
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Baby Sam: A story of rights, but whose?



In Tallahassee, armies of lawyers spill thousands of words before a bank of somber Supreme Court justices over the fate of millions of bits of paper called chad.

In Montgomery, Ala., that state's highest court didn't even bother with the nicety of an actual hearing over the fate of a 41/2-year-old boy.

We say we are so concerned about the welfare of our children.

But Sam Johnson's life isn't worth as much as whose ego gets to take up all the air in the White House.

Without a hearing, the Alabama State Supreme Court ruled last Friday that Sam Johnson, raised since birth by the Tuscaloosa couple who adopted him, must be returned to his biological father, Chris Vietri of New Port Richey.

The court split an unsplitable hair.

The birth mother had lied to an adoption agency about Vietri and to Vietri about the child. But she may have had her reasons. She said Vietri abused her and failed to support her. Two lower Alabama courts agreed and said Sam should remain in that state.

Nevertheless, Alabama's highest court said: "While the father's prebirth conduct could be relevant to his fitness as a parent, the father's prebirth conduct was not relevant to whether the father abandoned (the) baby."

In other words, Vietri might not be the greatest parent. But he still gets the kid.

We say we are so concerned about the welfare of our children. But not one word in the court's 38-page opinion was dedicated to what might be in the best interests of Sam Johnson's life.

So I asked Beth Reese of Tampa, a clinical social worker who deals with adoption and who is herself adopted. Reese was short, to the point, not at all sweet.

"It's a disaster for (Sam) to lose the people to whom he's bonded."

She predicted he would go through long mourning, the deepest homesickness, feelings for which a child does not have words. She said he should stay put.

I ran this by Chris Vietri's lawyer, David Sharp.

"Opinions are like noses," he said. "Everybody's got one."

What a nice man, don't you think?

His client once wasn't much nicer.

Chris Vietri once said that when he got his son, " ... he's going to find out about his real family and he isn't going to be thinking too kindly about (the Johnsons)."

In other words, Chris Vietri was planning to poison his son's mind regarding the people he first learned to call Mom and Dad.

Now that he's won, Vietri has changed his tune about the Johnsons. "I don't hate them," he said on Monday. He's even agreed not to change Sam's name. But he doesn't want the Johnsons visiting Sam. "For his sake, he needs to be only concentrating on his family. I am his family. I am his blood family."

And then he said, "He's my right."


Everybody's got rights. Everybody's got the right to get theirs satisfied. This is America, isn't it?

So why doesn't Sam Johnson have any?

Readers of this column know the writer is an adoptive parent. In this case, an adoptive parent who is seeing red.

It generally happens that the best interests of an adoptive child coincide with that of the adoptive parents -- because that's where the bonding takes place that forms the child's basis of his view of the world, if it is good or bad, to be trusted or feared.

These are the lessons of a lifetime.

You never know, said Beth Reese. There are some kids who will land on their feet after an ordeal like Sam Johnson's, she said. Some won't. You can't predict ahead of time.

By the time we'll know how Sam Johnson Vietri -- if that's to be his name -- has coped, it will be too late to tell him about rights. Then it'll just be his tough luck.

2000 Nov 21