Weblog archive for October 2004

1st October 2004

International conference on "The Future of Male Contraception" in Seattle

This is being held in Seattle, Washington, USA, from September 29 - October 2.

There has never been a symposium of this size and this breadth on this topic. 

Dr. Diana Blithe, conference chairwoman and director of male-contraceptive development at the federal National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

There is substantial progress, especially since pharmaceutical companies have taken an interest. I think they see a potential market, that they can make some money. 

Dr. William Bremner, a University of Washington professor of medicine

Topics to be covered include promising new targets for male contraception (affecting spermatogenesis, differentiation, maturation, motility, capacitation and binding), clinical trials, hormonal male contraception, public-private partnerships and regulatory guidelines for contraceptive development, translational research from target identification to clinical application and recommendations for future research.

"Bremner was hard-pressed to predict when a male-contraceptive method might be widely available. "I would guess," he said, "in the five- to seven-year range.""

"Several large surveys in Europe and the United States have indicated that a majority of men would be willing to take a long-acting injection for contraception. Many are tired of the alternatives: condoms, which decrease sensation and sometimes break, and vasectomy, a surgical procedure that is difficult to reverse."

(What about technologies from India and China such as RISUG and Shugs?)

2nd October 2004

Misattributed paternity and child support, ("paternity fraud") - recent USA news

Despite the many problems with the CSA, in one respect the UK has got things about right. The UK has sensible rules for paternity and child support. Except for special (and mostly obvious) cases such as adoption and sperm/egg donation, it is the biological parents who have the responsibility for child support. A paternity test can be obtained to settle disputes. (This web site has one of the best summaries around).

Not so in much of the USA, and some other countries, where the policy is closer to "find the nearest man with a wallet". Whether or not he is the biological father, or even whether or not he ever had sex with the mother! If you are named by the mother, and fail to get to court to refute it, perhaps because you never received the papers, you may end up paying a large proportion of your income for the next 18 years, however much proof you have that it is not your child! This is generally known as "paternity fraud".

My kids are the real victims. They're taking my money and giving it to another kid. 

Bert Riddick

No one knows how many men are wrongfully pursued for child support, though the district attorney's own records show that on average more than 350 a month are incorrectly named as fathers. 

Nicholas Riccardi and Greg Krikorian

This is a huge problem. We estimate that as many as 1 to 3 million men are victims of paternity fraud, and many don't even know it. 

Carnell Smith, National Family Justice Association executive director

This unjust, indeed contemptuous, system is gradually changing in the USA. More and more states are allowing proof of non-paternity to over-turn child support orders. Sometimes this has to be within a certain period (for example, within 2 years of the birth of the child, or of the child support order). It is typically not possible to get a refund on money already paid. Rules differ from state to state. (In contrast, in the UK there is no time limit, and refunds can be paid).

Sometimes men have managed to find a court to over-turn a child support order. Sometimes they have managed to get the law changed. The latest example of the latter is in California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently signed a Bill allowing proof of non-paternity to cancel a child support order:

"Schwarzenegger on Tuesday signed legislation making it easier for men to challenge paternity rulings that force them to pay child support even though DNA evidence later proves they are not the father.... Under current law, men ordered to pay child support generally have little recourse even if they could later prove that another man was the father. Judges were reluctant to stop payments out of fear of harming the children. The measure that will go into effect Jan. 1 establishes a new procedure for challenging paternity, including informing the man of his right to genetic testing. Challenges could be raised within two years of being ordered to pay child support, or within two years of the child's birth, under Assembly Bill 252."

In 1991, an old girlfriend identified Bert Riddick as the father of her newborn child. When the summons arrived for Riddick to appear in court, his fiancee was so enraged she hid the paperwork, producing it only days before the hearing as Riddick was about to leave on a business trip. He missed the court appearance, and in his absence was ordered to pay child support, although he is not the father. (In many other cases, the man never sees the summons, which can be delivered by "substitute service", and left with someone else, instead of "personal service" directly to him).

""I'm stunned right now," said Riddick of Carson, when told his 10-year crusade had succeeded. "Boy oh boy. This is incredible." Riddick said he has been paying $1,400 a month since 1994 to support a girl who he has never met and claims not to have fathered. That's money taken from his three biological children, Riddick said, in explaining his tireless work to change the law.

"My kids are the real victims," Riddick said. "They're taking my money and giving it to another kid." Riddick also feels sorry for the young girl he's been supporting. A girl who "will never know her true father" and will never learn whether she's at higher risk of certain inherited diseases, Riddick said."

Some people have objected that relying on biological parentage severs the bond between a man and a child, even when the child is not his. But that is nonsense! If there really is an emotional bond, the way to satisfy it is for the man to share the parenting of the child, not to be separated from the child and pay someone else to look after it. An emotional bond is a precedent for shared parenting, not for child support.

Would a father get away with saying "there is no bond, so I shouldn't have to pay child support? Of course not! There is no requirement for a bond before a father pays child support, so why mention it when the man is not the father? It is just a cynical method to "find the nearest man with a wallet".

3rd October 2004

Far more men than women favour paternity testing at birth

Should all babies have a paternity test at birth? (A different question, not pursued here, is "should all babies at birth provide a DNA sample, suitable later for genetic screening and other uses? Another question not pursued, yet more relevant to this web site, is "should paternity tests be automatic in child support cases?", as some people have suggested).

This is not currently seriously proposed in any country. But it is the topic of a long-running survey. The average response is as the title suggests. The details need explaining. For example, why don't all men favour paternity testing at birth?

The amazing thing is that the guys are always split 50-50. Age and income groups don't seem to matter. 

Lisa Hayward, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology

It comes out pretty much the same, whether you ask it by itself or ask it in the context of other questions, and no matter what order the questions are in. 

Sievert Rohwer, a University of Washington biology professor

Sievert Rohwer, a University of Washington biology professor, for several years has, at the beginning of the fall quarter, asked students in a freshman-level and a senior-level biology class whether they would favor routine paternity testing when a baby is born. The answers were very similar year after year, he said, but those results were never formally compiled for research purposes.

While working as a teaching assistant in Rohwer's class, Lisa Hayward, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology, agreed to compile the results into a research paper. Surveys were given to 733 adults, 655 of them students enrolled in science classes at the UW or at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash. Of those responding, 294 were men and 439 were women.... Four different versions of the survey were used. For one version, 170 people were asked only one question: whether hospitals should routinely include paternity testing for newborns. The rest received a survey with two additional questions - one regarding a father’s presence in the delivery room and the other regarding inducement of labor - to mask the real aim of the survey. The order in which the questions were asked was changed randomly.

"A high number of women who favored routine paternity testing said they wanted to reassure their husbands of their faithfulness, and some wanted to make sure that, for health reasons, their children had correct information about their genetic heritage".

"There's this fascinating aspect that when we ask the guys who do not favor paternity testing why they are opposed, more than half of them say, "Ignorance is bliss". Then the question becomes, "Whose ignorance, the cuckolder or the person being cuckolded?""

The following explanation is misleading. It implies a conscious analysis and decision. In fact, the same question arises for very many species in the animal kingdom, hardly any of whom know that having sex results in offspring. Animals were "at it" long before human beings evolved! The visible behaviour is the result of drives and instincts that may be hidden from the participants.

"Researchers have speculated about why a woman would seek a father for her child other than her husband and often conclude that it is to improve the child's genetic heritage or to gain parental investment from more than one male. Either way, it would normally be advantageous for the woman to keep the child's paternity a secret so that her husband would continue to care for the child as if he were the father."

The following are variants on the same original article. (This article has been widely syndicated).

4th October 2004

The rate of misattributed paternity - update

This item was triggered by a surprising (and erroneous) statement in an article quoted by another item. The article [1] below said:

"Previous studies have shown that generally less that 1 percent of married women bear children fathered by men other than their husbands. The exceptions are studies conducted among women living in extreme poverty in the United States, Mexico and England, where the rate was as high as 10 percent".
[1] "Far More Men than Women Favor Routine Paternity Testing at Birth"

... a part of me died. 

Morgan Wise, when it was confirmed that 3 of the 4 children born during his marriage were not his

I was forced to view it as pretty much a death in the family. 

Eric Demby Jr, when it was confirmed the child he thought was his daughter wasn’t

The issue of non-paternity will not go away despite the efforts being made by governments to make DNA testing without the mothers consent a criminal offence. 

James Hickey

Not true! Previous studies have consistently suggested much higher figures in a wider range of circumstances than this. Even the lowest values tend to be higher than 1%, while in some circumstances the proportion revealed by paternity tests is up to about 33%. (The latter is for the special case of child support claims in Florida, but there is no suggestion that they are all in "extreme poverty"). There is a summary of many such surveys on this web site.

"Some peg the range at 5 to 10 per cent; others, such as Jeanette Papp of the University of California at Los Angeles, feel that 15 per cent is reasonable for the Western world, even if there is no hard evidence. "It's hard to do studies on these things for ethical reasons," says Dr. Papp, director of genotyping and sequencing in UCLA's department of human genetics. "I mean, how do you tell people what you're really looking for?"

"A British survey conducted between 1988 and 1996 by Robin Baker, a former professor at the University of Manchester, confirmed the 10-per-cent figure. That seems high to skeptics such as Dalhousie University geneticist Paul Neumann, although even he admitted that "my colleague, who's a woman, tells me women have no trouble believing it. . . . It's the men who can't."

"Bernard Dickens, a specialist in health law and policy at the University of Toronto, said that in another British example, the non-paternity rate was three times that.

"In the early 1970s, a schoolteacher in southern England assigned a class science project in which his students were to find out the blood types of their parents. The students were then to use this information to deduce their own blood types (because a gene from each parent determines your blood type, in most instances only a certain number of combinations are possible). Instead, 30 per cent of the students discovered their dads were not their biologically fathers. "

Summary:

  • No one knows the true rate of misattributed paternity for the UK as a whole. Suitable research has never been done. The same applies to nearly all other countries.
  • Some people quote figures for the UK such as 5% or 10%, etc. These are unreliable extrapolations, "best guesses", from research that has been done. These estimates may be OK, but we don't know. Research, and results from paternity testing services, tend to give higher percentages than this, but typically because of special reasons that are expected to give a higher rate than for the population as a whole. In the UK, paternity tests confirm paternity perhaps 6 times out of 7 on average, but the remaining 1 in 7, or 14%, applies to the special case of people requesting paternity tests.
  • Research elsewhere suggests that the nonpaternity rate for wealthy families and "high status" families is significantly lower than for poorer families. The spread ranges from about 1% to 30% respectively. Some high percentages come from council estates and similar. (Given the relatively small proportion of wealthy people, their results make little difference to the percentage for the population as a whole. However, it has been suggested that "high status" men are often the fathers of those poorer children!)
  • Research in Germany suggests that birth order is a factor. The 4th child is more likely to be that of another man than the 1st child.
  • Research elsewhere suggests that if a man is confident that he is the father, he is more likely to be the father than if he isn't confident. The worldwide nonpaternity rate for these extremes has been estimated as about 2% and 30% respectively! But, in all circumstances, even in the worst situations such as child support cases after a family breakdown, the presumed father is more likely than not to be the biological father. Paternity tests mostly confirm paternity.
  • Research in China suggests (perhaps unsurprisingly!) that if the mother is willing to have a paternity test, the presumed father is more likely to be the father than if she doesn't want a paternity test. In neither case is it clear-cut, but the mother cannot (of course) be relied on to give permission for a test if she suspects, or is certain of, nonpaternity. And when she suspects nonpaternity, her interests are probably not aligned with those of the child. Nor of the biological father, or just about anyone else!

5th October 2004

Paternity testing and the Human Tissues Bill

The Human Tissues Bill going through Parliament is not primarily about paternity testing. However, clause 50 (which may become section 50 or so of the Act) also has paternity testing within its scope. The key feature appears to be that only a person with parental responsibility for a child is able to give qualifying consent for the DNA of that child to be tested, except for specified purposes where such qualifying consent is not needed. Paternity testing will normally need such qualifying consent, except presumably where a court orders otherwise.

It is possible that there is enough vagueness for it to be argued that a Gillick-competent child can override the consent of people with parental responsibility. It is not clear how this could be exercised before it became too late to prevent the test. However, this rule is little different from the Code of Practice and Guidelines for paternity testing that already exists.

Memorandum by the Department of Health about the Human Tissues Bill - Non-consensual DNA testing - excepted purposes:

21. Clause 50 introduces a new offence of non-consensual DNA testing. It is aimed at, inter alia, non-consensual paternity testing by the popular media. This clause extends to the whole of the UK, and goes beyond scheduled purposes, in that it prohibits non-consensual DNA analysis for all purposes, other than those which are specifically excepted....

22. Excepted purposes are listed in part 2 of schedule 5 and include criminal justice purposes, national security, and so on....

Explanatory notes of the Human Tissues Bill - Clause 50: Non-consensual analysis of DNA:

61. It is an offence under clause 50(1) to have any bodily material (that is, any material which has come from a human body and which consists of or contains human cells) intending to analyse the DNA in it without qualifying consent, subject to certain exceptions. This offence applies to the whole of the UK....

62. What constitutes qualifying consent is set out in Part 1 of Schedule 5. It may be given to analysis of DNA for any purpose. It can be given by the person from whose body the material came or someone with parental responsibility if the person is a child.

Human Tissues Bill - Schedule 5 - Clause 50: Supplementary:

Qualifying consent

2 (1) In relation to analysis of DNA manufactured by the body of a person who is alive, "qualifying consent" means his consent, except where sub-paragraph (2) applies.

(2) Where - (a) the person is a child,

(b) neither a decision of his to consent, nor a decision of his not to consent, is in force, and

(c) either he is not competent to deal with the issue of consent or, though he is competent to deal with that issue, he fails to do so,

"qualifying consent" means the consent of a person who has parental responsibility for him.

Application to Scotland

3 (1) In its application to Scotland, paragraph 2 has effect with the following amendments.

(2) In sub-paragraphs (2) ... for "parental responsibility for" there is substituted "parental responsibilities in relation to".

(3) At the end there is inserted - "(5) In this paragraph "adult" means a person who has attained the age of 16 years; "child" means a person who has not attained the age of 16 years; "parental responsibilities" has the meaning given by section 1(3) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 36)."

Human Tissue Bill

10th October 2004

Essential viewing this week - Geldof & the Dad's Army

Channel 4:

Monday 11th October, 20:00 - 21:00: Geldof on Marriage.

Monday 11th October, 21:00 - 22:00: Dad's Army (Fathers 4 Justice).

Tuesday 12th October, 21:00 - 22:00: Geldof on Fathers.

11th October 2004

Essential listening too, this week!

I have received an email (thanks) pointing out the following:

Just thought you might like to know that there may be some essential listening this week, too, care of Radio 4's File on 4 programme. Specifically, I paste from the BBC's website:

"Tuesday 12th October, 20:00 File on 4 Jenny Cuffe investigates the Child Support Agency, 10 years old and still failing many of Britain's most vulnerable households. [Rptd Sun 5.00pm]."

So: Radio 4: 20:00 Tuesday 12th October, & 17:00 Sunday 17th October.

(ps: More like 11 and a half years old!)

14th October 2004

CSA 'on point of collapse'?

I think we have got to the point of no return with the CSA now. It is on the brink of collapse. 

Michelle Counley, director of the National Association for Child Support Action

Is it?

How can we tell, when it has struggled on as the most adminstratively-incompetent government agency in living memory for over 11 years? How can we recognise the "tipping point", where it has reached the point of no return, and we just have to wait for the inevitable?

The only thing keeping the CSA going is that the government hasn't got something to replace it with. A decision to concel it needs to be accompanied with a statement of what comes next. The government hasn't got an alternative that is "ready to go".

News articles about the CSA show that, year after year, the story is the same. Thorough incompetence and abject failure, accompanied by a feeling on the part of the government that it will soon be "sorted out" and will get better. An assumption, or desperate hope, that the latest set of changes will be the thing that makes it better once and for all.

It won't get better for once and for all, until there is a radical re-think. That is what this web site is about.

30th October 2004

CSA publishes an on-line guide to paternity tests

The CSA web site now has a useful guide step-by-step guide to what happens if paternity is disputed.

It is a bit more comprehensive than the page provided by this web site, which was written as a 500-word summary.

(As always, things are a bit unclear in certain cases about what amounts to "conclusive evidence" when the man disputes paternity late in the proceedings. If the evidence isn't conclusive, then the mother's agreement that there is doubt is needed before the CSA will offer a paternity test. When there is doubt, "sooner" is better than "later" for claiming a paternity test).

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