What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?
by Barry Pearson
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Policing the use of information gained from tests

There are some important proposals in the wider field of genetic diagnosis. One is that an organisation such as an employer or insurance company should not ask for the results of a diagnosis. Another view is that organisations should not be allowed to act upon the information resulting from these tests. A number of countries have such views. They do not want to create a "genetic underclass".

Those views have no relevance to paternity testing. Paternity tests provide information about whether two people are related. They don't describe either person. Children with misattributed paternity are not an underclass. "Bastardy" is a now quaint concept.

Should a commissioner of an unofficial paternity test be able to exploit the results of the test? What does the question mean?

- The question may be whether the commissioner should be able to change the operation of official bodies, such as government agencies, by using the results of the test. The answer is that he should not be able to. And typically he can't, so this needs no change. An unofficial paternity test has no chain of custody. No person or agency need act upon the test report. Any government agency should ignore the report.
- Or the question may be whether the commissioner should be able to act differently as a result of the test. The answer is that his range of options should remain identical, because the unofficial test has not provided any reason to grant him different options. However, he may obviously choose different options within that existing range.

The result of the test has simply become the knowledge of its commissioner. It enables him or her to make informed, rather than uninformed, decisions and actions. Those decisions and actions will typically be similar to those that he or she could have made without that knowledge. It would typically be impossible to deduce that the person has based the action on a paternity test. He could not be prosecuted for it.

This section describes the last stage of the paternity testing process. Its importance depends on what the objectives of proposed legislation are. (This is not clear).

- If the concern is what men do, then this may be the key stage. The legislation could ensure that men can only do what they could have done without the test.
- If the concern is what men know, then this stage is too late. By this stage they have learned the truth. If that is undesired, he must be stopped at an earlier stage.

The United States tends to focus on what men do. For example, individual states control what influence a paternity test result has on child support liability. Germanic nations appear to favour genetic openness, and have a more open approach to paternity testing.

The focus in the UK and Australia appears to be controlling what men know. Some people in the UK appear to be concerned with the collection of samples. Both countries appear to be concerned with the commissioning and provision of tests. But it is hard to police what people know.

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