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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

May 15, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The U.K.’s largest pharmacy company, Boots UK, Ltd. has begun marketing a DNA testing kit over the counter. It costs £30 and contains sterile swabs, sterile envelopes for the swabs and instructions for gathering the samples. Processing costs an additional £130, more if the person wants results within 24 hours.

Predictably, the news that the company is offering the kits and processing has raised a small storm of silly, sexist and, often enough, simply inaccurate commentary. As this article demonstrates, there are plenty of people telling the world that men should have no right to know who their children are and children should have no right to know who their father is (The Telegraph, 5/14/15). Strange, but true. Stranger still is the fact that at least some of those people call themselves “ethicists.”

First, this form of paternity fraud (a woman telling the wrong man he’s the father of her child) is fairly common.

Research by Professor Mark Bellis, director of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, suggests that one in 25 children in Britain has been sired by someone other than the man who believes he is the father.

“For some reason, this is an issue that gets discussed in the media and on TV shows much more than it ever does by scientists — despite the fact infidelity is pretty much part of the human condition,” says Prof Bellis. The national rate of around four per cent masks the wildest of variations; in deprived areas, with higher proportions of younger and unmarried parents, it rises to 30 per cent, research shows.

My guess is that 4% significantly understates the actual rate of false paternity generally. I’d be interested to know Bellis’ methodology. The fact is that, about this fairly important phenomenon, we don’t really have any very reliable set of data on which to base an across-the-board figure for rates of false paternity. Maybe Bellis has done some good research, or maybe not. I hope he has.

But if his 4% figure is accurate, and if it applies to the U.S. as well as to the U.K., that would mean about 175,000 kids born every year with a man in their lives who believes he’s the dad, but who isn’t. That would mean about 3 million kids under the age of 18. So there are also about that many men who don’t know they have a child, but do.

Bellis is the only person quoted in the article who understands even some of the basics about why knowing a child’s actual paternity is necessary.

Prof Bellis believes that children need to know who their biological parents are. “Genetics are important to people’s health; this is stuff that your doctor and even your insurance company needs to know.”

Remarkably, everyone else quoted in the article raises objections to men and children knowing the truth about children’s paternity. For example, male fertility expert, Dr. Alan Pacey worries that inexpensive and readily available testing might be utilized by “the masses,” causing “an awful lot of anxiety and gnashing of teeth.” Well, we can’t have that.

Meanwhile, the founder of a group seeking to reform the U.K.’s Child Support Agency, Darren Jamieson, argues:

“It seems very wrong to me that you can walk into Boots and buy something that can split up a family unit,” says the father-of-three. “That’s bad news for the couple and for the child; whatever the result is, the mistrust generated by asking for these tests could do irreparable damage.”

Coming from a person who’s aware of the many depredations of child support enforcement, it doesn’t get much stranger than that. Has Jamieson ever encountered a man paying support for a child who isn’t his? Of course he has. So why’s he opposed to fathers knowing the truth and paying only for their own kids and not someone else’s? It might split up families.

But someone might let him in on a little secret — splitting up families is one of the easiest things to do in life. All it takes is a filing fee and anyone can divorce a spouse, no questions asked. It happens countless times every day. Plus, data in the U.S. strongly suggest that, a man who suspects he’s not the father of his wife/partner’s child is far more likely to be right than any other man. The American Association of Blood Banks routinely finds rates of false paternity of between 25% and 30%, which of course is far higher than across-the-board rates. Those are men who, for one reason or another, suspect a child isn’t theirs.

So Jamieson’s notion that the tests generate suspicion is mostly his imagination. It’s the other way around. When men seek DNA testing, for the most part, the suspicion is already there and, to a great degree, justifiably so.

Perhaps the most remarkable claim came from a bioethicist.

Dr David Jones, Director of the Roman Catholic Anscombe Bioethics Centre, believes companies should not be able to profit from revelations which could tear families apart, and leave children without a father figure. “It is irresponsible to leave these decisions to the free market and not think about the consequences for children and families.

Once again, his ignorance is palpable. Does he not realize that DNA testing already exists and testing labs perform it? They don’t do it for free. And the idea that Boots is leaving “these decisions to the free market” is just loony. No, Dr. Jones, it’s leaving “these decisions” to individuals who want to know whether the child they’ve been told is theirs is actually theirs.

Equally silly is the idea that, if one man learns he’s not the child’s father, then no one is, thereby leaving “children without a father figure.” Again, Dr. Jones, that’s just not true. The fact of a child means there’s a father unless he’s died in the meantime. Somewhere there’s a man who may well want to know that he has a child. The mother almost certainly knows who that man is and in any case, it’s clearly in the child’s interests to know.

The last in the parade of misinformers is child psychologist, Dr. Oliver James.

He believes strong families and relationships are built on the bonds they forge, not on the basis of human biology. “I think the problem is that people see parenting as the transmission of some essence of self — that is delusional garbage. Genes are the least important thing of all of it. The relationships are what matter.

“Delusional garbage?” The man might want to read some sociology that consistently proves that children raised by biological parents tend to do better on a wide array of measures of well-being than all other kids. But why let facts get in the way of a cherished opinion? The idea that one “father figure” is pretty much as good as another is untrue. James could use the Internet and look it up.

When it comes to maintaining mothers’ power over all things related to children, it’s astonishing the number of excuses people can come up with for lying. Unsurprisingly, not one of them is worth the effort.

Most of us are taught early on that the truth is usually better than a lie. And, except in cases of “white lies” that may be used to shield a person from hurt feelings, that’s true. But in addition to all the very important reasons to come clean about a child’s paternity, there’s the concept that the truth should be our default position in our relationships with others. All of the commentators expressed the importance of family relationships, but not one seemed to think that building those relationships on dishonesty might pose a problem.

And not just any old dishonesty, either, but one of the most important there is. Paternity fraud isn’t like telling your husband you’re going out for cigarettes and meeting your friends at the neighborhood pub instead. For one thing, paternity fraud is an every day thing. A woman who tells a man he’s the father of her child when she knows or suspects he’s not, tells the same lie every minute the two are together. And likely as not, he has some niggling suspicion all that time too. “Strong families and relationships?” Hardly.

In addition to basics like the importance of the truth over falsehood, not one of the people quoted grasped the concept that men have a right to know who their children are and who they’re not. To deceive a man about that is both morally and ethically wrong. It should be civilly wrong too, as six American states have agreed. Does any one of them consider the fact that the news media and popular culture routinely depict fathers as uncaring about and irrelevant to their children? Does it occur to them that when they opine against fathers knowing who their children are, they’re doing the same thing?

Face it, this culture and many others, that of the U.K. included, tell fathers in a hundred different ways that they’re not liked, not trusted, feared and derided. And then we turn around and excoriate men for not being more interested in their kids. Well friends, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t, through our silly and outright false claims about paternity fraud, tell men that (a) it doesn’t really matter who plays the role of father to a child and (b) mothers must continue to exercise all but complete control over men’s parental “rights” and then pretend outrage when men opt out of childcare. Men aren’t dumb; we get the message.

Of course a mother who lies to one man about being her child’s father simultaneously lies to another man as well. Every case of paternity fraud harms at least three people — the child, the supposed dad and the actual one. Needless to say, not one of the commenters in the article noticed the fact. Nor did they notice that paternity fraud is, at its heart, an exercise of power by a woman over all those three people.

And of course the one hurt worst is the child. The medical repercussions alone can be staggering, but apart from those, lying to a child about its father not only undermines the child’s relationship with its supposed dad, but with its mother as well.

And then of course there’s all the needless litigation that can occur when men attempt to sort out who fathered a child and who didn’t. All that is a colossal waste of time, money and effort when the sensible thing would be to find out at the start who a child’s father is. That argues for genetic testing of every child at birth which I’ve said before should be done. It would be far easier, cheaper and less stressful to simply find out the paternity of every child from the outset. That way all children could know their fathers, no one would have any misconceptions, no one would pay child support for a child who isn’t theirs, there’d be no litigation, less heartbreak, etc.

Finally, genetic testing, whether as a part of routine at-birth testing, or of the ad hoc kind provided by Boots, if it became a regular part of life, would dramatically reduce the incidence of false paternity. Faced with a high probability of getting caught, women would likely be more careful about their use of contraceptives.

Kudos to Boots for putting the truth about paternity in the hand of men. Male power over their own fertility is rare enough. The more the better.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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