Who's your daddy?

A new at-home paternity test helps answer the age-old question. (Whether he's rich, however, is a different issue entirely.)

By Catherine Price
Published April 1, 2008 9:33PM (UTC)
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Now, I'm usually a big fan of do-it-yourself projects. I read ReadyMade. I've made my own sweaters. (Speaking of which, has anyone else seen this absolutely amazing homemade bacon scarf on Etsy? God, how I want one of those.) I support my fiancé when he decides to construct elaborate sugar water feeders to coax the neighborhood hummingbirds to our window. But here's something I'd never thought of as having DIY potential: paternity tests. Yes, that's right. We just got word of Identigene, a home paternity test being put out by Sorenson Genomics and reported on here by MSN. For $20 to $30 (plus an additional $120 or so for lab processing; $200 more if you want tests that will stand up in court), you can help your child answer that age-old question: "Who's your daddy?"

Basically, it works like this: You take a "vigorous 45-second cheek swab" from the dad's and the kid's cheeks (ideally the mom's, too), send the samples off to Sorenson's labs, and several days later, you get your results. The people interviewed by MSN -- one of whom found out he had a son, another of whom found out he didn't have a daughter -- had very positive things to say about the test. They thought it was an easy, relatively inexpensive way to answer a nagging question.


So what are the caveats? First, of course, is accuracy -- Sorenson claims a 98 to 99 percent accuracy rate, but since the tests aren't subject to oversight by the Food and Drug Administration or certified under the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, organizations like the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins have their doubts about whether the results can be trusted. Other people think there's potential room for fraud (though the accompanying MSN video points out that it would take some work to collect a fraudulent sample without a person's knowledge, what with the 45-second cheek swab and all). And then there's the issue of the basic test not being admissible in court. (See $200 option referenced above.)

But the article points out that many people taking the test aren't doing so to help them litigate. They're just curious. So it seems to me that the most important thing to keep in mind, if you're considering doing one, is this caveat from R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "We all need to take a step back and realize that this is different than many tests that you take," she is quoted as saying. "This is a life-changing moment."

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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