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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Secret DNA testing 'should be banned'
DNA hand
Covert DNA testing to establish paternity should be made illegal, the UK Government's gene watchdog has said.

If ministers agree, the situation facing US millionaire Steve Bing - being sued for paternity after so-called "DNA theft" - would be outlawed in Britain.

Private investigators acting for the husband of a former lover stole used dental floss from the waste bin outside Mr Bing's home, and tested the DNA on it.

Mr Bing is already locked in a separate paternity battle with the UK actress and model Elizabeth Hurley.

It is not known whether similar incidents have happened in the UK - although an estimated 10,000 DNA paternity tests take place every year.

The paternity testing industry is currently confined only by a voluntary code of practice, which asks for the consent of both mother and father prior to testing.

'Repercussions'

Lady Helena Kennedy
Lady Helena Kennedy wants tough new laws
The Human Genetics Commission, an independent advisory body, published its report, Inside Information, on Tuesday morning.

It calls on the government to consider making it a criminal offence to deceitfully obtain and analyse another person's genetic information for non-medical purposes.

The commission says this sort of activity would be a gross intrusion into someone else's privacy.

It is also concerned about the possibility of unscrupulous journalists secretly taking something like a coffee mug belonging to a public figure and analysing the DNA obtained from it.

That could reveal whether they were at high risk for a disorder like Alzheimer's disease.

The commission also recommends that the government consider introducing legislation to prevent genetic discrimination in areas such as employment and insurance.

Barrister Lady Helena Kennedy chaired the commission.

She said that increasing numbers of people were applying to laboratories to have genetic samples tested to establish whether they had fathered a child.

Lady Kennedy said: "A person may say what is wrong with a man knowing whether he really is the father of a child.

"But there are very real repercussions for a family when that is done, and the best way of doing it is through the proper legal channels because it can have an enormous impact on the child's life, and on sibling's lives."

'Biobank' launch

The report reinforces the need to obtain consent before that data can be used for medical research.

UK scientists recently launched the "Biobank", a collection of many thousands of DNA profiles.

The commission has already recommended a moratorium on the use of "adverse genetic test results" by the insurance industry.

However, the report recommends that, despite public support for the use of DNA fingerprinting to solve crime, police should not have access to research databases.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Government advisors say stealing DNA should be a crime"
See also:

27 Jul 02 | Health
29 Jan 99 | Health
30 Aug 01 | Health
19 Apr 02 | Entertainment
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