Outraged by a new American law that bars Russians accused of human rights abuses from visiting the United States, the Russian parliament this week overwhelmingly approved a law, signed today by President Vladimir Putin, that bars Americans from adopting Russian children. If you have trouble following the moral logic of this particular tit for tat, you are not alone. The New York Times reports that the new law applies not only to future adoptions but to adoptions in progress:
For parents with their hearts set on adopting Russian children, the political discourse has been little more than background noise to their own personal agony. Senior officials in Moscow have said they expect the ban to have the immediate effect of blocking the departure of 46 children whose adoptions by American parents were nearly completed.
Adoption agency officials in the United States who work regularly with Russian orphanages said there were about 200 to 250 sets of parents who had already identified children they planned to adopt and would be affected.
As the Times explains, this nasty trick, which reneges on a recently completed adoption agreement between the two countries, is not simply a matter of disrupting cherished plans in which American couples have invested much time, effort, money, and emotion (although that would be bad enough). Since these parents already have met and bonded with the children they are adopting, Putin and his allies in the legislature are arbitrarily breaking up newly formed families, randomly hurting innocent orphans in a fit of political pique. The week of Christmas, no less. (Yes, I know: Theirs is the week after next.)
Putin's reply to critics who say it is wrong to prevent Americans from giving Russian orphans a better life in the United States:
There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours. So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?
This all-or-nothing logic argues not only against adoption but against any action that helps some while neglecting others. The 1,000 Russian children adopted by Americans last year may amount to less than 1 percent of the children available for adoption in that country, but every one of them now has a family he did not have before. Likewise the 60,000 Russians adopted by Americans during the last two decades. It would be wonderful if all 120,000 children waiting for adoption in Russia could find homes there, but since only 18,000 or so Russians are waiting to adopt (according to UNICEF), why prevent people in other countries from picking up some of that slack?
And yes, it's true: There are more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted right here in the United States. In that context, it may seem puzzling that Americans look for children to adopt in other countries. But as someone who has adopted both domestically and internationally, I can tell you there are sound reasons for preferring the latter process. Sadly, dealing with an authoritarian government, even a corrupt one, can be easier than dealing with our own child welfare system.
Not in this case, of course. The nearly adopted children affected by the new Russian ban are unambiguously worse off as a result, to the benefit of no one. It is hard to fathom how anyone could support such a policy, let alone almost every legislator in Russia's parliament. You say we abuse human rights? We'll show you! It would be comical if it weren't so cruel.