GREENVILLE, SC (CBS) - Groundbreaking legislation in Illinois is making it possible for adoptees over the age of 21 to get a copy of their original birth certificate. Supporters of the law say it's as a big step toward reuniting some families. But critics describe it as troublesome.
Fifty years ago Cletus Lynch found a photo in a drawer in his mother's dresser. He was 11 living with his mother in a one bedroom apartment in Illinois at the time. He was stunned when she told him the girl in the picture was his sister.
Lynch searched for his sister all his adult life; Barbara Mapes knew she was adopted and always felt, for no particular reason, that she had a brother. She says, "I think I have an older brother out there. Someday I'm going to be walking down a street or in an airport and I'd see a guy who looks just like me well."
Mapes was raised by adoptive parents 35 miles away from her brother and birth mom in Illinois but because of privacy laws those 35 miles might as well have been 3,500. Mapes says, "I always felt like the corner foundation piece of that puzzle has always been missing."
Traditionally, in cases of adoption, birth certificates are sealed. After the adoption, a new certificate is issued with the adoptive parents' name on it. Cletus says, "Everywhere you went you got a brick wall, privacy rules HIPA rules I had contacted the hospital and they couldn't give us any information."
In 2010 the Illinois state legislature changed the law making it possible for adoptees over the age of 21 to get a copy of their original birth certificate. When Barbara Mapes got her 61-year-old birth certificate she was stunned to see she had a sibling. She says, "It was that sibling that I was interested in cause I just felt like I had a big brother I don't know I never thought I about a sister or anything I just thought I had a big brother out there all these years."
Illinois state representative Sara Feigenholtz wrote the bill. She says, "I passed this law because I felt the pain and was approached by many other adoptees who had no idea how to get any information. A lot of adoptive parents who had children who were adopted wanted to get medical information about the children they adopted people who wanted to reconnect to get life saving medical information were unable to do anything and why?"
Critics of the Illinois law and similar bills around the country say that sealed records protect the biological parents -- and that this change constitutes an invasion of their privacy.
Adam Pertman is the executive director of the adoption institute. He says, "What people are concerned about i think is the knock on the door. That someone who doesn't want intrusion on their lives is suddenly going to have to have a relationship with a child they relinquish."
Mapes says it's a question of her right to know the truth. She says, "I guess I'm speaking on behalf of all the adoptees out there that don't know anything and it's an unknown factor of our lives I certainly feel like I need to know."