Are over-the-counter DNA paternity tests ethical?

father-and-babyHackney, in East London, is one of the first areas in the United Kingdom to allow chemists to sell over-the-counter DNA paternity testing kits.

A short but interesting piece on BBC London News raises the inevitable ethical questions of allowing such easy access to these tests.

Ian Meekins from International Biosciences, manufacturer of the test, is unsurprisingly in favour of the kit which provides “indisputable answers to emotive questions”, claiming that “people have the right to be able to get those answers.”

He may well be right. There is a certain level of choice involved here, although the finances required to receive test results could be a barrier in themselves — the kit costs £30 but a further payment of £119 is required in order to have the test processed.

The method for collecting the DNA samples is simple. Use a separate mouth swab for the mother, the child, and the man who is testing for paternity, and then send the swabs away to be analysed.

That’s the finances and the procedure taken care of, but what about the rights and emotional wellbeing of the child?

Josephine Quintavalle from the ethics organisation Comment on Reproductive Ethics is convinced that children are not being protected.

She said that, most often, the tests are not done for the benefit of the child, and are taken without their consent. It’s disputing, warring couples where the male involved is effectively deciding whether to accept or reject the child.

“We have a duty to protect children and their rights in this instance,” she said.

However, the Hackney chemist selling the kits said that he will provide counselling to those families who need it.

Sadly, in these days, the issue of paternity comes up a lot, and while a kit like this makes it physically easy to determine who the biological father is, we surely have to question whether it’s always the best thing to do.

I am sure there are plenty of situations where men who are not biological fathers are doing a fine job of bringing up children. Granted, there are other issues such as the right for a child, at the appropriate time, to know who their biological parents are, but particularly when very young children are involved, is there potential to do more harm than good in making these sorts of tests so readily available?

Presumably, if trials are successful in Hackney, the test could be rolled out nationwide.

An emotive subject, surely, but I’d be interested to hear your views.

Read the original news story at BBC News Online