Teach-In afternoon keynote on genetic testing and adoption

Kristen Cerney

News Writer

Dr. Kim Park Nelson, a professor, author and researcher spoke at this year’s annual Teach-In at Benedictine. Dr. Park Nelson’s presentation was on “Resolving Adoptee Multiversity: Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing as a Proxy for Birth Family Search among Adopted Adults”, where she taught attendees about genetic testing and adoptees’ search for their biological family.

Companies such as 23andMe are common for birth family searches, but Dr. Park Nelson warned people about the conflicts that could arise.

“Most of the scholarly work on commercial DNA testing is in agreement that there’s really no significant evidence that these tests have any kind of scientific or medical [basis],” said Dr. Park Nelson. “They’re not considered by the medical industry as medical devices, so they’re not regulated by the FDA.”

Dr. Park Nelson questioned how likely it would be for adoptees to connect with family through genetic testing, and how important it is for adoptees to know that it is not always possible. Several genetic testing companies have advertised that people that connected through their testing have had great familial relationships, but that can’t be the case for all adoptees and their biological families, according to Dr. Park Nelson.

“What you might find out is that your biological family wants nothing to do with you, or they are people that you would never want anything to do with,” said Dr. Patricia Somers, a psychology and sociology professor at Benedictine and the organizer for this year’s Teach-In. “People have to have knowledge about what the potential likelihoods are before they pursue that.”

Dr. Park Nelson described the desire that many adoptees had to reconnect with their biological families, which is an experience that not many people have as most people already know their biological family. Students were given an opportunity to learn more about the reality of adoptees and gain some perspective on how different their lives are because of it.

“Our parents are people that we take for granted because they’ve just been there our whole lives,” said Amina Raza, a junior at Benedictine. “It was a topic that I’ve never really thought about.”

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Park Nelson was adopted as an infant and grew up in the United States. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Ph. D in American Studies and became the lead organizer of the First International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies, along with the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA).

Dr. Park Nelson is the author of “Invisible Asians: Korean American Adoptees, Asian American Experiences and Racial Exceptionalism” and she has been published in both anthologies and scholarly journals. She currently is the director and associate professor of Ethnic Studies at Winona State University.