Thursday, November 19, 2009

How DNA Testing Is Changing Fatherhood

"DNA testing has led more men to discover that their children are not biologically theirs. Families are upended, and so is the law."
Over the last decade, the number of paternity tests taken every year jumped 64 percent, to more than 400,000. That figure counts only a subset of tests — those that are admissible in court and thus require an unbiased tester and a documented chain of possession from test site to lab. Other tests are conducted by men who, like Mike, buy kits from the Internet or at the corner Rite Aid, swab the inside of their cheeks and that of their putative child’s and mail the samples to a lab. Of course, the men who take the tests already question their paternity, and for about 30 percent of them, their hunch is right. Yet as troubled as many of them might be by that news, they are even more stunned to discover that many judges find it irrelevant. State statutes and case law vary widely, but most judges conclude that these men must continue to raise their children — or at least pay support — no matter what their DNA says. The scientific advance that was supposed to offer clarity instead reveals just how murky society’s notions of fatherhood actually are.
This is very sad and very real. And represents a thorny legal issue. I haven't studied family law yet but from what I understand, the guiding legal principle in most cases is to treat the welfare of children as paramount. While this can often lead to seemingly perverse outcomes, it is probably the right approach to take from a societal standpoint. Framing this as an issue of the murkiness of fatherhood is taking the wrong approach. Rather it represents a proper emphasis on the well-being of children. It's hard not to conceive of kids as being the most innocent of all the parties involved and they are the ones least able to fend for themselves. The law appropriately puts their interests above those of the parents, although sometimes in the context of tragic situations.

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