Cancer Survivors May Face Challenges Trying to Adopt

July 13, 2015

Cancer survivors may face discrimination by adoption agencies, many of which require medical histories and statements of health to be shared with birth mothers.

Cancer survivors may face discrimination by adoption agencies, many of which require medical histories and statements of health to be shared with birth mothers, a recent study found. In some cases, survivors are required to be disease-free for 5 years before an adoption can occur.

“Agencies restricting adoption to cancer survivors or requiring them to provide a note from their physician exposes a discriminatory practice akin to restricting employment opportunities for people with disabilities before the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act,” wrote the authors of a study published in Cancer. “There is no evidence to suggest that a cancer survivor or a parent with any kind of disability is any less able than an individual without a disabling health condition or cancer history to raise children in a loving, caring, and protective manner.”

The study was conducted as part of an e-training program for oncology nurses focused on helping them counsel survivors about their reproductive health and future options for building a family. Although other studies have reported that many cancer survivors would consider adoption if left infertile following treatment, the authors noted, there has been little follow-up on whether or not they are successful or what obstacles they encounter during the process.

For the study, 77 nurses enrolled in the course conducted telephone interviews with adoption agencies in 15 states. The results indicate that cancer survivors face significant issues in negotiating the adoption process, including costs ranging from $3,000 to $75,000. Adoption agencies often required physician statements of health and medical histories to be shared with birth mothers, and some required survivors to be free of cancer for 5 years.

These requirements could pose complications for survivors depending on how they were interpreted by the agency, the authors noted. International adoptions tended to have the strictest requirements regarding documentation of medical history and health, and some would only allow adoption of older children or those with special needs.

However, the agencies reported that many birth mothers felt positive about cancer survivors as potential adoptive parents, perceiving that they have overcome hardships and may have a greater appreciation for life. The majority of respondents said a history of cancer does not generally discourage birth mothers from choosing a cancer survivor as a parent, as their primary goal is to find a loving and stable home.

Practice guidelines currently include recommendations for reproductive health referrals, but the focus has been on fertility preservation, the authors said. These findings suggest that nurses should also be familiar with adoption procedures and be able to present patients with concrete information about how to navigate the process.

“Nurses serve as educators, advocates, reporters, and information gatherers who continually evolve with the needs of their patients,” the authors wrote. “Understanding the challenges and facilitators of adoption for cancer survivors will allow oncology nurses to be confident when discussions arise.”