Book Review: Adoption: Uncharted Waters
Erik L. Smith
Adoption: Uncharted Waters 1Kirschner, David, Ph.D. Juneau Press. 2006. 322 pgs. describes the theory of Adopted Child Syndrome (ACS) 2As yet unrecognized by the DSM, a diagnostic manual of mental disorders. and makes a case for it being a cause of, or major factor contributing to, serially killing and parricide 3 Killing one's parents. committed by adoptees. Uncharted Waters presents several case studies from the author's experience in his work as a consulting expert for criminal defendants.
The book's only problems are procedural. Uncharted Waters offers no operational definition of "adopted child" or of ACS. Instead, the reader must construct a definition from descriptions throughout the text. And while "adoption" has a definite legal meaning, Uncharted Waters offers no psychiatric definition for ACS. What does "adopted" really mean in the mind of an adoptee? Is a child in permanent foster care an adopted child under ACS theory? While the author has a healthy distrust of the DSM-IV,4See pg. 62. (a diagnostic manual of mental disorders) he could at least try to formulate a hypothetical DSM entry, or similar operational description, for the reader.
In any case, possible elements or identifiers of ACS seem to be abandonment at birth, fear of rejection in relationships or cumulative trauma of rejection,5See pg. 307. feelings of being disfavored in regard to siblings, early lying, stealing, or pyromania, assuming false identities, drug abuse or suicide, and a thwarted quest to locate the birth mother.6See pg. 60. The syndrome is often fed by a "compulsion to repeat." The serial killer, for example, has surrogate and symbolic victims for his one true target, his parents.7See pgs. 87-89. ACS is then exacerbated by a family climate of denial, secrecy, and lies regarding adoption issues.8See pg. 303. Accordingly, prevention of ACS lies in having an atmosphere of openness in the adoptive family, which, by validating feelings of loss, prevent the harmful fantasizing, proneness to "self-splitting," unresolved grief, and resulting "fatal quest" of killing seen in the extreme cases of adoptees who murder.9See pgs. 303-307.
Uncharted Waters also defends against past and predictable criticisms of ACS theory too late in the book.10Chap. 14, pgs. 251-268. The author excellently rebuts those criticisms and concerns. But the reader's own concerns and critical questions remain unanswered until after the evidence closes at page 250. The power of the case studies is reduced, though they remain intriguing and fascinating in their own right.