The Accidental Paternity Test


About two weeks ago (maybe) a friend sent me a news article about how having access to sites like 23&Me and Ancestry were causing some strife in homes, because kids are accidentally learning that dad isn’t biologically dad. That article dealt with a kid who found out that his uncle was actually his biological father. But I’ve read a few other articles along the same lines. One dealt with a woman who argued the fallout was not her fault. And again the issue of DNA privacy was brought up. Did her daughter, have any right to submit her DNA to Ancestry and learn that dad was not her biological father.

In that situation, the father knew the child was not biologically his, but the parents had kept the information a secret from the child who was upset upon learning about it. And again the idea of DNA privacy was brought up. Does the girl have a right to know that her DNA profile made a probable match for her biological father? Who turned out to be a sperm donor at a clinic and whose DNA was in the database because his sister had submitted her results.

Nothing criminal had taken place, but donor dad was upset that he learned who his biological daughter was and vice versa. But it begs the question, how much right to privacy do we have over our DNA? Should donor dad be able to sue his sister for uploading her results? And again, does he even have a right to expect his DNA be private? He willingly donated it, it was used properly to create a child. Did he sign away his right to DNA privacy at the time?

I mostly view DNA as it pertains to crime, but the question remains the same whether it’s crime or parentage, is there an expectation of privacy? Reputable sperm banks, normally safeguard donor identity, but what happens when the identity is revealed in a different way? In the 1990s when the donation was made, was there an expectation that his DNA profile would be safeguarded so that it could not be used to identify him later?

This speaks to the voluntary sample. He willingly gave his DNA sample away, it was used in a legal manner. The fact that technology has evolved to allow his sample to lead to his identity is not the fault of the clinic where the sample was given, nor is it the fault of his sister, his daughter, or her mother. Ethically, I feel the parents should have told her “we had some fertility problems, so we used IVF and donor sperm.”

Also, I’m not sure this is any different than if his sister had uploaded her profile and he’d been convicted of a crime. There is still fallout, but legally speaking, no crimes were committed, and did he have a right to expect his DNA would continue to be private even after it had been used to make a child?

It also highlights the use of a voluntary sample. When you commit a crime and your DNA is left behind, that sample is voluntary. Should it be expected to be more private than if you were to commit said crime on videotape? Recently, in my town a string of home invasions by 3 guys posing as police officers has been in the news. They have security video footage of them. There is a Crime Stoppers tip line and reward money in place for anyone that can identify them. The police are hoping the public gets involved to identify the criminals. Which is basically all that happens when a public DNA database is used. If the criminals are identified via those public tips, should any evidence pertained via release of their pictures be considered “fruit of the poisoned tree”? Do they have a right to expect privacy in the sense that their pictures would not be aired to the general public?

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