Thursday, February 10, 2011

More fodder for Jerry Springer

Do-it-yourself paternity tests are now available at one the UK’s leading pharmacy chains, Boots.

The tests cost around $50 AUD plus a further $180 for 5-day laboratory testing. Particularly impatient speculators can double the lab test fee for results within 24 hours.

Many are applauding the wider availability of a product which could see a dramatic shift in the way child support payments are enforced but paternity testing experts say there is a danger.

Dr Helen Watt, Bioethics expert at Oxford University said, "The test could be harmful long-term if the child is not told, but grows up sensing that things are 'different' and that there is some mystery, or that something is 'wrong' with him or her."

The kit’s manufacturer, Anglia DNA Services, say half of the tests it processes are for children under one, which is only slightly comforting. One might expect the emotional fallout to be significantly reduced in cases where the child, although perhaps already attached to his/her father, does not yet understand the arguments that may arise from the procedure. But there’s still no guarantee that even a newborn will not later on be impacted by the ordeal.

Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, summed the dilemma up. "It will be used almost exclusively as weaponry between battling adults in fraught relationships, to the detriment of the unfortunate child caught in the middle. This child will be unable to give informed consent to the use of his or her tissue, but the emotional impact of the test results, which could include paternal rejection, are likely to be devastating."

In the US, where nearly half a million paternity tests are performed every year, experts are questioning whether a man should have the right to conduct the test after a child has reached the age of reason.

Thanks to a growing number of celebrities whose paternity has been questioned and tested, DNA testing for paternity is not the taboo topic it was a decade ago. Its continued discussion in soap operas, talk shows and reality television has also contributed to the real life glorified stories of misattributed paternity that have begun to emerge in the media. Perhaps Australia’s most famous recent case was that of Tony Abbott’s alleged son who discovered, 26 years after adoption, that Mr Abbott was not in fact his real father, as had been assumed.

Anglia DNA Services currently analyses more than 3000 DIY paternity tests every year, but this number is expected to sky-rocket with the wider available of the tests through 375 Boots outlets across the UK.

With infidelity and “paternity fraud” (a term used to describe the situation that occurs when a woman tries to gouge money from a partner she falsely claims is the father of her child/ren) on the constant rise, it seems the widespread availability of paternity testing kits is indicative of the direction of a society that has no understanding of the meaning of sex.

One thing’s for sure. It will make plenty of fodder for Jerry Springer, et al.

© Eva Whiteley 2011

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