NEW YORK (AP) – A popular toy-marketing campaign, in which girls browse through hospital-style nurseries to choose a lifelike doll to “adopt,” has come under fire from prominent adoption advocates who say the program – featured at scores of stores nationwide – conveys a harmful notion that adopted children are salable commodities.

“Your campaign is insidiously offensive, stigmatizing and demeaning, and it should end,” wrote Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, in a letter sent this week to Saks Inc. and FAO Schwartz executives whose stores host the Newborn Nursery Adoption Centers.

The centers feature employees dressed as nurses, provide make-believe adoption forms and offer 22 different models of $100 baby dolls manufactured by Lee Middleton Original Dolls. The company had been the last major dollmaker in the United States before moving most of its production from Ohio to China last year.

Lee Middleton’s president, Ken Werner, said Friday he was dismayed to learn of the Donaldson Institute’s criticism, which echoed concerns of some other adoption advocates.

“We’ve sold thousands and thousands of dolls in this category and accumulated many accolades,” Werner said in a telephone interview. “The mothers who leave the premises after this unique experience would beg to differ with the points Donaldson is making.”

In a statement, Werner’s company said the Newborn Nursery concept “presents the adoption process in a positive manner and does not debase in any way the real life practice.”

Saks Inc., which has Newborn Nursery centers at many of its Parisian department stores, issued a similarly worded statement.

Nanette DiFalco, a spokesman for FAO Schwartz, said the toy store chain planned no formal response.

“People are entitled to their opinions,” she said. “They can choose to buy or not.”

Pertman wrote to the companies that the Newborn Nursery concept was based on “antiquated, discredited perceptions” and didn’t reflect modern adoption practices that place more focus on the children and their biological parents.

“Promoting the selection and sale of babies in this way (especially according to physical traits) deprecates the adoption process by turning an intensely profound experience into a superficial, commercial enterprise,” Pertman wrote.

“Perhaps it is yielding profits for you, but at what cost?” he added.

The Newborn Nursery Adoption Centers simulate hospital nurseries, complete with baby noises and a viewing window through which shoppers can see an array of dolls with different complexions, facial features and hair colors lying in cribs.

Once a doll is selected, an employee dressed as a nurse helps the buyer complete adoption papers, conducts a health exam of the doll, and shows the buyer how to hold it properly.

“At the end of the adoption, many new ‘parents’ can’t wait to shop for accessories (including dresses, blankets, shoes and more) to make their new arrival the prettiest baby on the block!” says the Newborn Nursery Web site.

The site also provides information on returns – promising a full refund if an unsatisfied buyer sends the doll back within 30 days.

Pertman said in a telephone interview that he assumed the Newborn Nursery campaign was created with good intentions, but he depicted it as offensive to many adoptive parents and adoptees.

“These are people for whom adoption is a profoundly important experience, and they don’t want it trivialized,” he said.

Tracy Seretean, a documentary filmmaker from Atlanta who was adopted as a child and is now the adoptive mother of twin girls from China, complained about one of the Newborn Nursery promotional slogans: “Adopting is as easy as 1, 2, 3.”

“Adoption isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be,” Seretean said.

Nancy Ashe, an editor with the informational Web sites and, shares some of their concerns.

“Adoption is an adult experience, and this is artificially dumbing it down for children,” she said. “The idea that there are babies in cribs who can be selected – the adoption process doesn’t work that way. … It’s the wrong emotional button to push.”

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