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Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK


DIY paternity test 'should be banned'

A simple DNA test is being targeted at men

David Hinchliffe on the Today programme
MPs have called for a ban on a new testing kit to check a child's paternity.

The Kent-based firm which markets the test has been accused of commercial exploitation of a sensitive issue.

Newspaper advertisements for the test have been targeted at men who have "nagging doubts" about whether a child is really theirs.

The £298 kit can be conducted at home and does not require a blood sample. Instead a swab is taken from the child's mouth.

There is then a five-week wait for the result of the DNA test while it is matched against a sample taken from the possible father.

For the 'suspicious and disbelieving'

In its advertisements, the company asks: "Whose child is it? Are you really the father?

"The curious, suspicious or disbelieving who just want peace of mind can now conduct paternity checks in the comfort of their own home. Do-it-yourself DNA tests are now available in Britain."

The Human Genetics Advisory Committee has raised doubts about the tests.

Children could suffer

[ image: David Hinchliffe wants ban]
David Hinchliffe wants ban
David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, called for them to be banned.

"I think it's the children who could suffer most," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"I think they (the firm) are blundering into a very dangerous area.

"They are enticing fathers, obviously on the back of the Child Support Agency issue, to carry out tests without any reference whatsoever to the child's feelings or discussion with the mother. Her consent or views are not taken account of in the propaganda they have issued.

Contemplate suicide

"I hope the company might think through the implications of this because I am sure they must realise that the likely consequences are damaged and destroyed relationships, and I suspect that some people could, as a consequence of this, sadly be even driven to contemplating suicide."

Mr Hinchliffe added: "I hope the Government will find some way to block the activities of this agency and other agencies undertaking similar testing.

"I intend to pursue the matter with the Department of Health. I want to see it stopped. Clearly there is a huge gap in law here where there is no provision in respect of non-medical use of DNA.

"I think there is a need for urgent guidelines and the advisory committee on genetic testing must look at this as soon as possible."

Ethical issues

[ image: Paternity issues have sparked passionate demonstrations]
Paternity issues have sparked passionate demonstrations
Sir Colin Campbell, chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, warned of the ethical issues raised by the tests.

"Why should somebody carry out the test? Whom should they consult? Should they ask or tell the biological mother?

"Should they seek the consent of the child? If they get the information, is it reliable?

"Are they under an obligation to tell anyone, including the child? This seems to be a topic without any of the moral context in which it should be approached," he said.

Deception a possibility

Professor Martin Richards, director of the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University, said people should not be denied access to the truth.

But he added: "I really don't see how any commercial testing organisation can really determine where a sample they are testing comes from.

"If people wish to deceive them and, for example, get a child tested when the parents of that child - or the people who appear to be the parents of that child - don't wish that to be done, I don't really see how that can be stopped once this becomes generally available."

There would be nothing to stop grandparents carrying out the test without the supposed parents' knowledge, he said.

No complaints

A spokesman for the DNA Testing Agency, based in Keston, Kent, which sells the kit, said the adverts had been running in a national newspaper for some months.

He said: "There has not been a big rush, it has just been trickling along. Dozens of people have taken it up.

"As many mothers as alleged fathers have been buying the test."

Commenting on criticism of the test, the spokesman added: "They are defending the position where they are controlling the tests in this country.

"We are giving people the opportunity to do private testing. There is nothing deceitful or underhand about it."

The spokesman added that some people had already received test results and the company had received no complaints "whatsoever".

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