Thoughts on the Bioethics of Estranged Biological Kin


  • Lisa Cassidy


This paper considers the bioethics of estranged biological kin, who are biologically related people not in contact with one another (due to adoption, abandonment, or other long-term estrangement). Specifically, I am interested in what is owed to estranged biological kin in the event of medical need. A survey of current bioethics demonstrates that most analyses are not prepared to reckon with the complications of having or being estranged biological kin. For example, adoptees might wonder if a lack of contact with biological kin could someday affect their medical care (or affect the medical care of their biological relatives).

Estranged biological kin, such as adoptees, present us with a chance to think about human connection. After sketching several organ-donation and adoption tropes, I argue that a feminist analysis of vulnerability and dependency is helpful for understanding the confusing ties of estranged biological kin. I conclude by proposing a medical registry that would put adoptees and others in touch with their estranged biological kin on a medically as-needed basis.