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August 31st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
For some time now, a 28-foot recreational vehicle has been cruising around New York City emblazoned with the words “Who’s Your Daddy?”  It’s a mobile DNA gathering facility; you can give them $299, a sample of your DNA and that of whoever else you think you might be related to.  They’ll package up the specimens and send them to an AABB-accredited testing laboratory in Ohio.  Within five business days, you’ll know whether you’re related to the person or not.

And that, according to this article is dangerous business (Reuters, 8/22/12).

Why’s it so dangerous?  Well, it’s funny, but the article that’s filled with dark forebodings about what can happen when someone hands over their samples, never gets around to saying.  Oh, one thing that can be a problem is if you send off your home-gathered sample to a fly-by-night laboratory.  You might get back some inaccurate results, but in a rather lengthy article, the writer cites not a single instance in which that’s happened.  And, as I said, the “Who’s Your Daddy” unit uses only an accredited lab.  The AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks), accredits blood banks and DNA labs across the country.  You can’t do better in this country than AABB accreditation.  That doesn’t mean such a lab can’t make a mistake, but my guess is they’re rare.  I’ve never read about a botched paternity test from one and the article cites none.

So what other problems are there?  The article refers to “experts” no fewer than four times, but quotes only two.  One is a law professor concerned about unaccredited labs.  The other has this to say:

“As this (industry) evolves it will create… a social expectation that, despite a past relationship between a social father and a child, DNA is everything,” said David Bishai, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Unlike Bishai, I’m not much good at predicting the future.  In truth, DNA testing for paternity and other purposes has been around about 25 years, and if there’s been any “social expectation” that “DNA is everything,” I haven’t noticed it.  Nor have I noticed anyone else who’s noticed it.  But what I have noticed is a lot of men who thought they were a child’s father, acted the part and, when they discovered they weren’t, went right ahead caring for the child as if it were their own, which in many ways it was.  They knew, as David Bishai apparently does not that, regardless of what a child’s genetic makeup may be, sometimes, nurture rules over nature.  Love doesn’t stop when an unexpected letter arrives in the mail.

Now, it’s true that some men in the same situation react differently.  Their feelings of betrayal by the mother outweigh their connection to the child, or at least diminish it.  I completely respect both responses; I won’t judge anyone in that situation until I’ve been there myself, which fortunately I haven’t been.

The article is interesting in a number of ways.  For one thing, paternity fraud is the elephant in the living room that’s never once mentioned.  The words on the RV are “Who’s Your Daddy?” but the writer deals with everything but.  Not once is a man interviewed whom the mother told he was the father, but who turned out not to be.  Not once is a man quoted who had no idea he had fathered a child, only to be told, when Mom needed child support, that he was.  Those are strange omissions given the fact that, every year, hundreds of thousands of men (382,199 in 2010) seek DNA testing for that very reason.  It’s odder still when the AABB reports that between 25% and 30% of those men find out they’re not the father of the child they’d been told was theirs.  The writer found none of those guys, interviewed none, quoted none.  None of their anguish and heartbreak makes it into the Reuters piece.

What does appear there is the notion that, in some way, the truth is a dangerous thing that probably should be kept under wraps.

Aside from questions about reliability, experts said wider DNA testing raises concerns of whether families and individuals are psychologically prepared for the results.

“The bigger question is what do we do with this information. Why are we looking for it and what do we think it means?” Crockin said.

Crockin, and the writer who quotes her, are indeed dancing around a dangerous topic, but it’s not the one they say.  Their none-too-subtle suggestion is that, because genetic testing is so fraught with danger, because the truth threatens the psychological well-being of families, we’d best limit it in some way.  We don’t want just any old guy to be able to flag down a passing RV and find out whether his girlfriend has been telling the truth all these years, now do we.  Aye, there’s the rub.  The real purpose of the article’s dark warnings that turn out to be confected out of air, is to strike a blow against fathers’ right to know.  The flip side is that it’s supporting lying by mothers.  If a man can’t get his own DNA test, how will he ever know if he’s the dad?  He won’t, and that will place his rights in her hands.  She’ll be able to lie with impunity.

And that of course is the real point behind articles like the one linked to.  The goal is to raise bogus issues of reliability and a future in which “DNA is everything,” the better to convince state legislatures to limit the use of DNA testing so that too many men can’t know the truth.  How might that be done?  Well, if the matter concerns a child, one handy way would be to require the mother’s prior approval.  That would effectively squelch a man’s right to know whether a child is his and of course a child’s right to know his/her parentage.

And what of all those tens of thousands of men who every year learn the truth about whose daddy they are, or aren’t?  They’d be where certain people like them to be – subject to the whim of a mother who, for her own reasons told him he’s the father, or told him he isn’t.

The article and its experts, both named and unnamed, are headed in the wrong direction.  The right direction is that states should pass laws requiring women to tell the father about his child within a short time after she knows she’s pregnant.  No man should lose parental rights or gain parental duties until he at least knows he has a child.  If the mother isn’t sure who the daddy is, she should be required by law to inform all possible candidates.  In addition, a man should always – always – have the right to check his paternity with a DNA laboratory.

Knowledge is better than ignorance.  Honesty is better than deceitfulness.  The law should promote knowledge and honesty and oppose ignorance and lying.  I know those are radical concepts, particularly in family courts, but there it is.

Thanks to Paul and Jim for the heads-up.

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