Wednesday, March 23, 2005

DNA Testing

US television program controllers discovered quite recently that for top-rating stories of love, anger and betrayal they should turn not to the movies or drama series but to paternity quiz shows.

In those shows, in a Jerry Springer-style setting, studio audiences witness couples arguing over the paternity of the woman's child. To cheers and boos, the woman states her side, the man responds, the audience asks them questions, then votes on who is telling the truth. The man goes offstage for a DNA paternity test and all is revealed to the audience.

With 350,000 paternity tests conducted each year in the US, it is big business - to the point where companies offering the tests advertise on billboards, posing the question: "Who's your daddy?"

It can also provoke a media circus, according to Swinburne University of Technology academic Michael Gilding, who has done a study of DNA paternity testing along with colleague Lyn Turney. He is referring not only to the quiz shows but also to the saturation coverage of loss and heartbreak Health Minister Tony Abbott has experienced at the hands of media outlets since DNA testing revealed that Daniel O'Connor, the son he thought he had discovered after giving him up for adoption 27 years ago, was not his biological child.

The Abbott case has given high-profile exposure to a biotechnological advance that is already growing in Australia, prompting fierce moral debate on men's and women's rights.

Sue Price, of the Men's Support Agency, argues that "to get rid of all the deceitfulness", a DNA test should be standard for all babies at birth, when they also have the Guthrie blood test to check against various diseases.

But prominent feminist Eva Cox fears that standard testing will lead to women getting blamed "because blokes don't know if the child is theirs".

Since its introduction in 1984 until recently, the use of DNA testing has been fairly limited but, according to test provider Vern Muir of DNA Solutions, about 5000 tests a year are now conducted in Australia. About one in five of those tests is negative, showing the man is not the biological father of the child.

When he started the business 10 years ago, Muir specialised in veterinary pathology, but persistent requests soon led him to conduct human DNA tests. In the early days the tests involved blood samples, but now they can be done from strands of hair or mouth swabs.

According to Muir, the ease of testing has led to its growth. "We were the first company in the world to offer an in-home DNA collection kit."

He charges a minimum of $495, while most Australian laboratories charge $600 to $800.
John, from NSW, was one of Muir's clients. In his case, the test showed he was the biological father of all of his children. He asks to remain anonymous, but explains why he wanted the test.

"My wife has had numerous affairs," he says. "She admitted to one in particular [that] occurred about the time she fell pregnant with our first child. I love my children with everything I have. I am their father irrespective of who the biological father is. I am the one who loves them, cares for them and the one who would lay down my life without a split second's hesitation to protect them."

The question, then, is: Why have the test done?

John says he wanted it done for peace of mind; because of his right to know, the argument commonly advanced by men's groups; for the wellbeing of his children, who might one day need the correct biological information to enable them to have a lifesaving transplant; and to ensure that the biological father lived up to his responsibilities.

"Every one of the men my wife had affairs with knew she was married. Every one chose not to practise safe sex. I cannot express my disgust at their actions. They made their choices and were going to live with the financial consequences of their actions, just as I have to live with the emotional consequences of their actions."
John believes it is ludicrous that the woman should have the right to veto a DNA test. "They are the ones with a vested interest to keep their secret. The fact they want to keep the secret shows they place themselves above the welfare of their children. The children and the father also have a right to know the truth, particularly the children."

Price says the agenda of the Men's Support Agency has always included giving fathers the right to DNA testing. "It's not about taking a moral stance, it's about truth," she says. "The dishonesty is what causes the problems. It's too hard for the Government to do anything about it because they're afraid of upsetting the women and losing their vote."

She says the argument for and against testing is one between deception and disruption - deception of men led to believe they are the child's father, when testing may show they are not, and disruption to families who suddenly discover after testing that the father they think is a child's biological parent is, in fact, not so.
Gilding believes testing should take place with the knowledge, rather than consent, of both parties. That view is partly shaped by the pragmatic recognition that men can freely obtain testing through internet companies, without the consent from the child's mother.

"It's a really hard issue," Gilding says. "I don't think people should do the tests lightly. In some cases it can lead to quite tragic outcomes. And the welfare of the child needs to be carefully protected. The happy stories are the 70 to 80per cent of cases where the test comes back positive and people go on happily living in the relationship.

"But in the other 20 to 30 per cent it can be heart-rending."

This article was given on loan to me by its author Richard Yallop :o)


Blogger No_Newz said...

Richard writes a good story. As far as DNA goes, I'm kind of torn. I think it's mostly a shame that people are unaware of if they have made a child or not with a certain someone. I know who my baby daddy is so I assume everyone else oughta. I'm old fashioned like that. LOL
Lois Lane

2:25 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Me too Lois, to me, the only reason a woman doesn't know who the father is, is if she's screwing every tom dick or harry!!

5:04 PM  
Blogger Lady in R3d said...

Hello- forgot which site I surfed from while waiting for the comment page to load. Using DNA analysis is an interesting issue or dilemna. I can see where it would be useful but also could stir up a lot of bones in the witch's pot.
I adore watching crime shows and books, but I don't know much about this technically.

I'm a very new blogger whose main thing is photography and writing. You have several cool things on your site. Hope it loads to get my name done!
Please stop by. I've been shamelessly asking for visitors. So many of the blogs I visited are no longer posting. Does that happen a lot?
Did you take the photo across the top of your blog? It's lovely.
Lady in R3D ~~8^)

12:18 AM  

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