Moral relativism and moral pluralism in adoption

I’ve been working on this post for months, always pushing it to the back of the line, because I am struggling to figure out what adoption means to me in the framework of moral relativism. Plus, I have a feeling it will be controversial.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, moral relativism is usually a term used against a theory or "empirical thesis [in which] there are deep and
widespread moral disagreements" and where the truth
or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to
some group of persons.

This is how it was presented to me when I complained about the IAS advertisement in this post. One commenter wrote,

"the value of human well-being comes first and foremost. But what I see
as constituting and contributing to well-being has been developed in a
particular cultural context. To me, that means we’re treading into the
murky waters of moral relativism here."

and another commenter wrote,

I think you are making a cultural judgement without all the facts. What
the ad says is your gain is not unconditional love but satisfaction of
good parenting and your love helping the child grow. Indians see things
differently to west.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know how South Asian Indians view adoption in a cultural context, so perhaps it is possible that the ad is supposed to imply that a picture of a child cradling an adult is meant to convey that adoption is about "your [adoptive parent’s] love helping the child grow." Personally, I don’t see it that way – if that were the case, the adult would be holding the child, not the other way around. And thus, that’s the whole point. I’m looking at it from my perspective here which is relative to my experience and my beliefs.

This whole idea of the ads being justified because it hits to a core value of a specific cultural group – even if I personally found it disturbing – really got me thinking a lot about moral relativism and adoption.  Adoption is definitely one of those practices/theories that has "deep and
widespread moral disagreements" and it definitely applies as an issue where "truth
or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to
some group of persons."

In fact the whole concept of "best interests of the child" could be considered within the moral relativism framework. Not all cultures consider the best interest of the child as paramount. Our own country (United States) did not either, really, until the mid-50s.

Yet now it’s the main framework for child welfare in the United States, and these words are embedded in the language of NGO’s and UNICEF and the Hague Convention. We [?] have decided that "best interests of the child" is morally pluralistic. The problem is, who gets to decide what is in a child’s best interests, and who gets to define what those best interests are?

For me, the problematic part of relying on the "best interests" is that different people and cultures are going to have vastly different opinions and beliefs about what are "best interests." When I read articles and op/ed essays on "best interests" and transracial adoption, what is most often stated is that the "best interests" of the child [meaning an adoptive family] should supersede a same-race placement.

Why do these concepts get discussed as mutually opposing? Can it be possible for both to be considered in a child’s best interests?

I keep going back to the foundational "adjustment" studies by researchers in the 1970s up through the 1990’s and how they all found that transracial adoptees had no problems or issues in their "adjustment."

Well, if the measurement for being "well adjusted" is equated with how assimilated the child is regarding their white adoptive family (versus their same-cultural identity), then I would have to respectfully disagree with those findings. At least in the racial and cultural sense. See, it all depends on who is doing the defining.

I guess I just struggle with the belief that having to be adopted to a family that is on the other side of the world from you, and being removed from your culture, language and everything familiar to you was considered more in my "best interest" than attempts to keep me in Korea with my Korean family or adopted to a Korean family. That a "family" and keeping me connected to my culture was and still is considered mutually exclusive.

I question who gets to decide what is morally relativistic in adoption, and what is not.

In my experience – as the subject of this debate, the person who bears the weight of everyone else who has more power on my literal and figurative body – I have been the one whom others decided what was in my "best interests." Does this mean that I don’t appreciate all that I have as a result of my adoption experience? Of course not. But even I can not honestly say with any certainty that I am "better off" than if I’d stayed in Korea. It depends on what "better off" means. Yes, I have an education, opportunities, a family that loves me here. But it was also a very painful and difficult life in many ways. And both the good and the bad were a direct result of my adoption.

Had I been in an orphanage in Korea for the remainder of my life, there is no guarantee my life would have been miserable. Perhaps it would have been by American standards, but that is moral relativism at work. It’s likely it would have been no picnic in the park either — I’m not looking at the possible "what-ifs" through rose colored glasses. I can not say I wish I hadn’t been adopted. I’m just tired of everyone deciding for me that I am better off, especially when they choose to look at adoption through the framework of moral pluralism.

Maybe I’d just be more comfortable if we all just acknowledged that there is no universal in adoption – every aspect of adoption is morally relativistic. It all goes back to who has the power and privilege to define.