Returning for a moment to the law of agency, an agent’s responsibility to his or her principal (the person who entrusted the agent with information in the first place) ends with the principal’s death, so it could be said that after your father’s death, you are no longer bound by his insistence on secrecy.
My suggestion is to do all you can to learn the names of George’s biological family members, and as soon as possible. Since your father is unwell, time is of the essence.
The crux of the question is whether the knowledge George has long sought will be helpful to him in understanding his life, which is, after all, the goal of every human being. You know George and believe it will help him.
If you’re able to learn more from your father and then postpone giving George the information until after your father’s death, you may feel less disloyal to your parents and better able to give George what could turn out to be the precious piece of his life story that he now lacks.
The dilemma you face is one reason I favor open adoption, discussed in depth here, the website of the American Association of Open Adoption Agencies, some of whose beliefs and guiding principles are:
Open Adoption is the healthiest form of adoption. We define open adoption as a form of adoption in which the birth family and the adopted child enjoy an ongoing, in-person relationship. … Given the extraordinary vulnerability of all the participants in adoption, it is crucial that services are provided according to the highest standards. We are keenly conscious that, for all its potential, there are painful dimensions to adoption. We recognize the importance of family preservation and view open adoption as an extension of that thrust. The essence of open adoption is respect and candor.
The legal standard of asking what is in the best interests of the child — and not of the birth parents or even the adoptive parents — strikes me as more important than doing everything possible to protect the privacy of the parents involved and deeming the child’s interests to be secondary to the adults’. The child did not ask to be born, nor to be given up for adoption, and has a basic human right to know his or her origins, if he or she desires this knowledge. Among the finest writings on this subject is the luminous In Search of Origins: The Experiences of Adopted People by John Triseliotis .
Most important for your peace of mind is to know that the best thing you can do for him is to be, as you’ve been since the age of five, his protector and loving sister, which will be all the more important with the death of his second adoptive parent.
Whatever the outcome of providing your brother with this “forbidden” knowledge, there is much you can do for him through your kindness, sustained loyalty, emotional support, devotion, good sense, and love. Knowing you are available to him may be, no matter what happens with his birth mother, the greatest gift you can give him.
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