What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?
by Barry Pearson
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Some men want to know if the children they are told are theirs really are their children. The normal method available to find out is a DNA paternity test. Some of these tests can work with just samples from the man and the child.

Some people want to restrict what those men can do to find out. Some people want those men to obtain the permission of the mother before they go ahead. Others want to ensure that men get the permission of a court first. Such people typically propose legislation to restrict one or more parts of the paternity testing process.

There are many forms that such legislation could take in theory. This paper attempts to describe the range of options available to legislators. It also discusses whether those options could be detected and prosecuted. This paper focuses on unofficial paternity tests where one of the samples is of the commissioner of the test. These paternity tests are freely available via the Internet from several countries.

The conclusion is not very surprising. The testing process may leave no trace on anyone that could be detected and lead to prosecution. Sometimes only the man will ever know that the test has been performed. Its only direct impact on him will be to inform him whether or not he is the father of the child. It would be hard to legislate when it is not even clear who, if anyone, is a victim of the test.

Effective legislation would require clear identification of the problem to be solved. There would probably have to be international agreement that this is a problem that needs to be solved. But at the moment there isn't a clear understanding of what behaviour is wrong.

A reason for the confusion is that some disquiet about paternity testing is cultural. The UK and Australia appears to favour restrictions on taking samples and commissioning the tests. Germanic countries appear to favour genetic openness, although some express concern about paternity testing. The US places few constraints on the provision of paternity tests, but often restricts how much influence they can have. More women in the US than the UK say that if a genetic diagnosis detects non-paternity as a side effect, the husband should be told.

Any move to legislate needs clarity about what behaviour needs to be prevented, and why.

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Page last updated: 25 July, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003