Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do It Yourself Paternity Tests

Home pregnancy tests have been around for around thirty years. Now, you can go to your local drugstore and buy a do-it-yourself paternity test.

The Identigene paternity test kit presently retails for $29.99 at Rite Aid drugstores. One customer who used one of the kits said, "Why not do it privately? We did this as discreetly, as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.”

“Everyone is purchasing the tests because they’re curious,” said Douglas Fogg, chief operating officer of Identigene, who expects to sell at least 52,000 tests this year. “They’re looking to establish questions about their own child or their own paternity.”

Some think the DIY test are a bad idea. “From our perspective, direct-to-consumer genetic tests raise all the same issues for lax government oversight, potentially misleading or false advertising and the potential for making profound medical decisions on the basis of poorly interpreted or understood results,” said Rick Borchelt, a spokesman for the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Others disagree. Unlike genetic tests for health conditions, tests that use DNA to determine paternity are fairly simple to provide and fairly easy to interpret, said Michael S. Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics. One customer said that even though the tests may raise some ethical question, that she considered it more ethical to know the truth.

The Identigene kit includes swabs for collecting cell samples from the inside of the cheeks of the child and the alleged father. Collection of the mother’s cells is optional, but recommended to strengthen the results. The swabs are packaged and mailed to the Sorenson laboratory where they’re analyzed. Results are reported online, by phone or by mail in three to five business days. They come back as a probability figure that verifies paternity with 98 percent to 99 percent accuracy, Watson said.

Legal experts warn that consumers shouldn't use these tests and expect the results to hold up in court. “The jury’s still very much out on these tests in terms of reliability and establishing a chain of custody,” said Susan Crockin, a lawyer who specializes in reproductive technology, Because the cell samples are taken in private, there’s the potential for fraud.

Most of the users who have been buying the kits don’t plan to use the results to resolve legal issues, Fogg acknowledged. Rather, most are simply looking to answer social questions.

Watson estimates that between 5 percent and 10 percent of genetic tests he's conducted show a child is not related to the presumed father. This corresponds to statistics in a book I reviewed in an earlier blog entry, Sperm Wars by Robin Baker, which said that around 10 percent of children were not sired by their legal fathers.

What do you think? Personally, I think they're a great idea dn I wouldn't hesitate to use one if necessary.

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