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SARS Prompts China to Suspend Adoptions

May 16, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Hundreds of Americans on the verge of adopting children from China are suddenly in limbo following Beijing’s decision to suspend foreign adoptions because of SARS.

``My heart fell to my toes when I read the news,″ said Pete Uhl of San Antonio, Texas. But he and his wife are determined to press ahead with nearly complete arrangements to adopt a baby girl from China; the indefinite delay, he said Friday, ``is just another bump in the road.″

About 5,000 Chinese children are adopted by Americans each year, more than from any other foreign country. The adoptions frequently take 15 months or more to complete, at a cost to parents of $10,000 to $15,000.

Citing the persisting dangers posed by severe acute respiratory syndrome, the China Center of Adoption Affairs said Thursday that it has temporarily stopped sending documents to adoptive parents authorizing them to come to China. The government-run agency said other aspects of the adoption process continue, such as selecting children who are candidates for overseas adoption.

Chinese officials said parents who already had received travel authorization and made flight plans will be allowed to come to China and pick up their children.

Susan Cox of Holt International, an agency in Eugene, Ore., that handles more than 300 adoptions from China annually, said some parents with permission to travel were nonetheless postponing their trip, while most planned to proceed.

``We’re trying to stay calm, but we’re conscious of the fact that this is something that’s never happened before,″ she said. ``We’re going down the road without a roadmap.″

Diana Prause of Great Wall China Adoption in Austin, Texas, said what China is doing is appropriate. Still, ``a lot of families are caught in limbo _ we feel for them.″

Uhl, 53, and his wife, Sandra, 50, are among the Great Wall clients directly affected by the suspension.

They had been hoping to get their first photograph of their daughter-to-be within a few weeks, as well as a travel go-ahead. Now, nearly 18 months after the childless couple decided to adopt, they have no idea of the timetable.

``We’ve been waiting and waiting,″ Uhl said. ``We don’t care how long _ we just want a baby.″

Uhl said he and his wife can endure the wait, but he hopes the uncertainty won’t be a strain on his parents _ both in their 80s _ who were overjoyed last year when informed of the adoption plans.

Prause said Great Wall, which places about 500 Chinese children in U.S. homes each year, is continuing to work on pending adoptions, intending to move swiftly when the suspension is lifted.

``Our hope is to send planeloads of parents over there,″ Prause said. ``We can bring the airlines out of their slump.″

Even before the suspension, fears of SARS prompted Pearl S. Buck International of Perkasie, Pa., to cancel a trip planned for mid-May by 11 people hoping to complete adoptions of Chinese children.

``They’re emotionally upset,″ said Michelle Cosner, the agency’s marketing director. ``It’s such a long process, and there’s a lot of patience involved.″

But she also said the suspension of adoption-related travel might be a boon to some parents, relieving them of deciding on their own whether a trip to China was wise.

Adoption agencies that operate in the Far East are struggling to provide clients with up-to-date information on SARS _ referring them to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere. One particular concern, said Cox of Holt International, is whether visitors to certain regions of China might face a quarantine.

``Parents have to be prepared for a situation that’s very fluid,″ she said. ``It changes from day to day, even in the course of a day, and we’re trying to be as vigilant as possible.″

Partly because of the ailing economy, Cox said applications by Americans for international adoptions have been stagnant, or even declining, in the past year. She worries that SARS will further dampen interest in adoptions from Asia.

A single mother who completed her second adoption of a Chinese child in March, Christi Worthington of Menifee, Calif., expressed empathy with prospective parents whose plans have now been disrupted.

``It’s got to be very devastating,″ she said. ``But most adoptive families are really committed _ they’re going to wait it out, and if they have the chance to travel, they’ll risk it.″


On the Net:

State Department: http://travel.state.gov/adoption_china.html

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars

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