"The truth is out there" - Commentary on "Move to outlaw secret DNA testing by fathers"
by Barry Pearson
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1. Ethical debates must start with the realisation that the topic of paternity tests is primarily about knowledge, not about DNA. DNA is simply the “tactical means” being used to gain knowledge.
2. Paternity tests for personal knowledge do not themselves hurt anyone. They simply inform a person of a fact about themselves that other people may already know. His or her subsequent informed behaviour may affect others, but ethically that is not a reason to deny that person that information.
3. It is necessary to distinguish between tests that simply inform the commissioner of the test about something and have no other practical value, and tests that inform a second or third party. The ethical implications of personal knowledge tests are very different from others.
4. Men, women, and children should have privacy in their quest for personal knowledge of biological relationships, as long as they obey the standard laws of assault, theft, privacy, harassment, data protection, and similar.
5. It is necessary to distinguish between tests that provide knowledge of one's genes, hence bodily attributes, and tests that simply use junk DNA to identify biological relationships without attempting to predict bodily attributes. The ethical and privacy issues are totally different.
6. The UK's "strict biological relationship" policy for child support avoids some of the bad behaviour that occurs elsewhere in the world, and should be supported for that reason.
7. The explosive growth in paternity testing services demonstrates just how important very many men feel their biological relationship with their children is. This dimension to "fathering" has always been strong and won't go away.
8. Increasingly, it is often being seen to be in the interests of children to know about their biological parents. This has even been identified in the case of a seven-year-old child. The trend is towards laws and judgements that recognise this important need of many children.
9. It appears to be very difficult to attempt to frame credible laws which would make it an offence to obtain DNA samples from someone close, or to use a paternity service across the world. It would be better to concentrate on having good quality private personal knowledge paternity services in the UK.
10. Since paternity surprises are seen to be a problem, the answer is to solve the problem. We should move “towards a society without paternity surprises”.

Knowledge of biological relationships matters to many men, women and children!

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Page last updated: 13 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002