More Info From Early Blood Tests–And What Will We Do With It?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a blood test that can be done fairly early on during pregnancy that can allow sequencing of the DNA of the developing fetus.   This opens the door to all sorts of difficult choices.

Here’s a story I think of as a follow-up:  An early blood test can also be used to establish paternity.   (Paternity here means genetic paternity, not legal paternity.)   Because the test is a simple blood test it carries very little risk, though it is pricey.  And of course, you can only do this if you also have a blood sample from at least all but one of the possible fathers.

As with the other blood test, this gives people the option of having yet more information–and the question is what people will do with it.    I found the suggestions in the paper surprising:

Besides relieving anxiety, the test results might allow women to terminate a pregnancy if the preferred man is not the father — or to continue it if he is.     

Men who clearly know they are the father might be more willing to support the woman financially and emotionally during the pregnancy, which some studies suggest might lead to healthier babies.

And if the tests gain legal acceptance, some lawyers say, women and state governments might one day pursue child support payments without having to wait until the birth. Under current law, “until and unless the pregnancy produces a child, any costs associated with it are regarded as the woman’s personal problem,” said Shari Motro, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

There’s much to think about here.   When, for instance, will this blood test be most useful and to whom?  It’s obvious that in many situations there isn’t more than one possible male genetic father, but sometimes there can be.   I can see two basic situations–one in which everyone knows that there is more than one man who could be genetically related to the child and another in which the woman may know it but the men involved do not (all) know it.     I’d want to think about these separately, I think.   The blood test will probably be most useful in the first instance, but it’s a little hard for me to see how it plays out in the second.   I suppose a pregnant woman could arrange the testing surreptitiously with the assistance of only one/some of the men involved.

Still the ultimate question is what we do with the information we get.   There’s one story is set forth in the article:

Courtney Herndon, after breaking up with her boyfriend, had a brief relationship with a man she regarded more as a friend. She found herself pregnant at age 19, without knowing which man was the father.

The friend also wanted to know, so he agreed to the testing. He turned out to be the father, and the two agreed on child support even before the baby was born.

“I got the test done and was able to go on with my life,” said Ms. Herndon, who lives in Fort Polk, La.

This, however, is not the actual end of Ms. Herndon’s story.   That’s at the very bottom of the article:

In some cases DNA is not destiny. Ms. Herndon’s test showed that the baby was not her ex-boyfriend’s. But they got back together and married, and he accepted the child, who is now 16 months old.

“We view our daughter as ours, mine and my husband’s,” Ms. Herndon said. The biological father sends gifts and pays child support.

Clearly it has been useful to have the information about genetic connection, but I wonder how the law is processing all this.   My guess is that the husband here is legally a step-father–unless one of the various presumptions (holding out or marital?) have made him something more.   But over time he’s just the kind of man I might want to see have legal status–he’s the functional father with the genetic father playing a far more limited role.  I’m not suggesting that the genetic father should be excluded here–it sounds like what is going on works for everyone.    Rather I’d suggest that there is reason to recognize both men, perhaps in different ways.

There’s one other tidbit here I found fascinating.

Studies have found a discrepancy rate — when the presumed father is not the biological father — of anywhere from 0.8 percent to 30 percent, with the median being 3.7 percent, according to one review of such studies.

I don’t think this means to use “presumed father” as a legal term but rather in a more common-sense way.      I think what they are talking about is how frequently the man who thinks he is biologically related actually isn’t.   A range of 0.8% to 30% is vast and you have to wonder about whether everyone was really studying the same thing or the same populations.  More to look into, I guess.

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2 responses to “More Info From Early Blood Tests–And What Will We Do With It?

  1. Not that I think this changes things too much, but there are at least two other possible scenarios: 1) The woman knows there’s only one potential father, but that man doubts her word; and 2) The woman herself doesn’t know if there are other potential fathers since she was drunk/using drugs/etc and isn’t sure if she had sex. The first scenario happens all the time and the second isn’t totally unheard of either. In some cases, women in the second situation would know the men they possibly slept with and could get a paternity test from them.

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