The Australian men’s and fathers’ rights group, the Men’s Rights Agency has called for the mandatory genetic testing at birth of all children born in the country. Here’s an article reporting on the call (The Australian, 2/16/11).
What spurred them to act was the announcement by the federal government’s Child Support Agency that almost 600 Australian men have discovered that they’re not the father of a child they’ve been supporting. That’s since the enactment of the 2007 amendments to the Family Law Act. Of those, only 74 received any reimbursement from the mothers.
The excellent Sue Price, head of the Men’s Rights Agency said that about 30% of fathers who contested paternity in court were found to not be the father of a children they thought were theirs.
That figure is almost identical to that of the American Association of Blood Bank’s data in the United States. The AABB is the organization that accredits DNA testing laboratories in this country and keeps data on false paternity.
Unsurprisingly, there’s opposition to mandatory DNA testing to determine paternity. Or is there?
The president of the Sole Parent’s Union, Kathleen Swinbourne, historically no friend of fathers or their rights to their children, questioned whether it would be good for children to learn that the man they thought was their father, isn’t.
But then she turned around and said,
“We think there is more to being a father than DNA,” she said. “If men are asking for these tests right at the beginning when someone says they are pregnant, that’s fine, but if you are doing this when they are already calling you daddy, what effect does that have on the child?
That sounds very much like an endorsement of Price’s call for testing at or near birth, in which case, it’s welcome.
Where Price and Swinbourne differ is that Price wants testing of all children and Swinbourne wants to do it only in cases in which “men are asking for these tests.”
In other words, she wants to put the onus on men to ferret out the truth.
Now let’s consider what that would mean in practice. For example, a young man and woman are married, they’ve decided to start a family and the woman becomes pregnant. They completely redo the study of their house to make it the baby’s room. They paint and totally redecorate. They buy baby clothes, toys, a crib, a stroller. They devour books on babies and parenting. They attend classes.
The big day arrives and they rush to the hospital where they’re blessed with a healthy newborn baby. Both their bodies are producing hormones that bind them to that baby in the way nothing else on this earth can do. They are filled with overwhelming joy, commitment, trepidation and love.
And it is then, according to Swinbourne that the dad is supposed to say “Er, dear, I’d like to find out if the baby is really mine.”
To put it mildly, that’s not sensible. I can’t imagine any normal father doing that.
But, if all babies were tested at birth, the procedure would be as routine as, for example, blood-typing.
A nurse would go to the dad in a private moment and say “Open wide, I’m just going to swab inside your cheek a little.” She’d swab inside the baby’s cheek, send the swabs downstairs to the lab and that would be that. A few days later the tests would come back and, in the vast majority of cases, the dad would never need to doubt his paternity.
In the fairly rare (7-10% of all births in my estimation) cases in which he turned out to not be the dad, efforts could begin immediately to find out who was. The true father could then take up his parental duties and begin bonding with his child. The other man could go his own way. But everyone would be certain who the father was, who should pay to support the child and who had parental rights on divorce or separation.
In short, there would never again be doubt or uncertainty about paternity. There would be no more court cases involving the astonishingly vexing questions that arise when a man has cared for and supported a child who’s not his, believing all along that it was.
In the United States, there are about 4.2 million babies born every year. The AABB’s last annual report for 2008 reports that about 415,000 genetic tests for paternity were reported by the labs they accredit. But only 24 of 40 (60%) labs reported data. So, that would seem to indicate that about 690,000 tests for paternity were done that year. That’s about one-sixth of the total that would be done if all children were tested at birth.
Opponents of mandatory paternity testing want to put the onus on the dad to have it done. Their emphasis is misplaced. Only the mother knows with whom she had sex at or near the time of conception. She knows; the father does not.
Therefore, we should take one of two approaches. First, mandatory DNA testing of all children at birth would decide once and for all the matter of paternity.
Alternatively, we could legally require all mothers to disclose all possible fathers and, if more than one were disclosed, testing could be done. Part and parcel of that requirement would be another – that no man could lose parental rights or gain parental obligations in the absence of accurate information about paternity.
The latter may be cheaper, but far more complicated and less certain. The former is more expensive, but much easier and 100% certain.
However we do it, connecting children with their true fathers and not requiring men to care for children not their own, are far too important to be left to our current system that meets no one’s legitimate needs.