Shame and Scandal
Mummy’s Little Secret
Up to 2 in 5, Politicians and
Family Court Judges may not be genetically related to some of their children.
“Ignorance is bliss for happy husbands”
wrote reporter Adele Horin. The recommendations of the committee into DNA
testing aims to keep the status quo, by making it illegal for alleged fathers
having their assumed children DNA tested without the consent of the mother or a
In 1965 well before the advent of DNA
technology the song Shame and Scandal was released.
“Found a young girl, who suited him
Went to his papa to ask his advice
His papa said son, I have to say no
That girl is your sister but your mama don't know
Wohohoho, it's real, shame and scandal in the family...”
“Went to his mama, and thought
what he said
And told his mama, what his papa had said
His mama she laughed she says, go man go
Your daddy ain't your daddy, but your daddy don't know...”
(written by – traditional, lead vocals
- Peter Tosh, 1965 produced by - Coxone Dodd)
A 500-year-old English Law declared that any children born into a marriage are
the prodigy of the husband. It has not been until recent times have tests become
available to prove or disprove paternity.
Researchers conducting a study into inheritance of blood groups in America in
the mid 1900’s discovered that 1 in 10 babies blood types could not be
explained by hereditary factors alone. The results of this research were kept
secret for many years.
“In the early 1970s, a schoolteacher in southern England assigned a class
science project in which his students were to find out the blood types of their
parents. The students were then to use this information to deduce their own
blood types (because a gene from each parent determines your blood type, in most
instances only a certain number of combinations are possible). Instead, 30 per
cent of the students discovered their dads were not their biological fathers.
"The classroom was, of course, not the ideal place to find out this
information," said Prof. Dickens, who is often consulted on ethical issues
by geneticists at the Hospital for Sick Children”
(Mommy's little secret By CAROLYN ABRAHAM The
Globe and Mail. December 14, 2002)
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1995,
“Blood Grouping Tests in Undisputed Paternity
Proceedings”. Using the A-B-O blood
typing system it was found that 18% of the men who had voluntarily admitted
paternity, were not the actual fathers of the children.
The use of blood groups for testing for paternity is not very accurate, as O and
A blood groups are the most common.
In Australian Maternity wards, it is standard
procedure to only test the blood groups of the mother and the newborn infant.
When the infant’s blood type is different to the birth mothers it is assumed
that this is the blood type of the alleged father. The father's blood is never
If the alleged father of the child asks about the child’s blood group just out
of interest or curiosity. He will not be given that information. The obvious
reason as to why the father's blood group is not tested is to prevent the
accidental discovery of non-paternity in unsuspecting assumed fathers.
The discovery of DNA and its use in the treatment of hereditary diseases and
genetic counseling created an ethical dilemma for doctors. The medical journal
The Lancet in 1993 published an article called “"Non-paternity rate and
screening in genetic disease analysis".
“Geneticists have stumbled upon this
phenomenon in the course of conducting large population studies and hunting for
genes that cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis. They find full siblings to be
half-siblings, fathers who are genetic strangers to more than one of their
children and uncles who are much closer to their nieces and nephews than anyone
might guess. Lumped under the heading of "pedigree errors," these
so-called mis-paternities, false paternities and non-paternities are all science
jargon for the unwitting number of us who are chips off someone else's block”
“In the research world, when scientists come across a father in a
mismatched family, they toss the sample. If pedigree errors are not caught, Dr.
Scherer said, they can wreak statistical havoc with a study: "People have
made careers designing software to catch these kinds of things."
Sample mix-ups can skew results, as can an extremely rare condition
discovered in 1989 in which a child inherits two copies of the same chromosome
from one parent, obscuring the contribution of the other. But as the number of
gene hunts and diagnostic tests has grown and grown, the leading cause of these
anomalies has proved to be mistaken fatherhood” (Mommy's little secret by
Carolyn Abraham, The Globe and Mail. December 14, 2002)
A widely publicized story on the accidental discovery of non-paternity through
screening for genetic disease is that of Morgan Wise.
“Wise’s fateful discovery, several
years after his divorce, was prompted by the desire to help treat his 6-year-old
son for cystic fibrosis: When he took a blood test to find out which cystic
fibrosis gene he carried, it turned out that he didn’t have the gene at all.
Both parents have to be carriers for a child to inherit the gene.
Subsequent genetic tests showed that of the
four children born to Wise’s former wife during their 13-year marriage, only
the eldest was his. ‘I never experienced a heart attack, and I can tell you, I
had one that day," Wise told Dateline. "I mean...a part of me
died.’” (NBC Dateline)
For a child to inherit the genetic disorder of cystic fibrosis. Both parents
must carry the recessive gene for cystic fibrosis. Genetic DNA testing for the
recessive cystic fibrosis gene showed that Morgan Wise did not carry the
recessive gene for the inherited disorder of cystic fibrosis as this
unsuspecting man did not carry the recessive gene, there was no possible way he
could have been the biological father of 3 of the 4 children.
“Keeping secrets can backfire. In one case, a father who tested negative
for a gene that his sick child had inherited wrongly believes himself to be both
a carrier of a genetic disorder and the child's natural father.
Ms. Shuman said counsellors have never told him otherwise, even after his
marriage broke up. But recently, he contacted the hospital again to say he has a
new partner and wants to come in for further testing. He assumes that any child
produced in his new relationship also may be at risk.
Telling him there is no risk would reveal the truth about his first child.
Going ahead with the test denies him the truth about his own DNA.”
(Mommy's little secret by Carolyn Abraham, The
Globe and Mail. December 14, 2002)
Data from the American Blood Banks Association shows assumed fathers requesting
the use of DNA that 30% are found not to be the child's biological father.
(Also see In
Genetic Testing for Paternity, Law Often Lags Behind Science.)
A research paper “Prenatal paternity testing with deoxyribonucleic acid
techniques” published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in
1996 found in postnatal testing 37% of alleged fathers were excluded from being
the father of that child. Prenatal testing excluded 53% of alleged fathers. 753
postnatal paternity tests were performed and in the study each mother admitted
that the paternity of her baby was ambiguous.
The accidental discovery of non-paternity can happen through genetic testing or
in some cases fathers after years of believing that the child was theirs
contributing to child support payments only to be told by the child’s mother
that they are not the child’s natural father.
“The child, he said, "was not just a part of my life but was my life .
. . someone I felt I would die for," said Demby, now 33. When contact with
her stopped, "I was forced to view it as pretty much a death in the
family," he said.”
(DNA tests mean more in deciding who's
dad, some say, Pam Louwagie, Star Tribune Published
Dec. 30, 2002)
One of the arguments for making DNA testing by father’s illegal is that
fathering is more than donating some chromosomes. Fathers who choose this option
do so by making an informed decision by adopting children or in the case of
infertility, parenting children by donor insemination from a fertility clinic.
For some alleged fathers the choice is not an informed decision. In fact they
may be blissfully unaware of the fact that some of the children born may not be
genetically related to them at all.
Another argument for not DNA testing the children of a marriage is because it
may cause harm to the child as the child had already bonded to the assumed
Fathers can lose contact with their children for a number of reasons;
1. Death or suicide, separated and divorced
men have the highest suicide rate in Australia and overseas.
2 .The Court orders that the father not to
have contact with the child.
3. The Mother decides that the father can not
have contact with the children. The Mother can do this in a number of ways, by
hiding the whereabouts of the children. By moving away so that contact becomes
difficult and expensive. An article by Bettina Arndt, many mothers put a barrier
of distance between their children and their father by relocating on average by
141 kilometres in Australia.
4. Failure to enforce contact orders issued by
the Family Court
5. Some men give up the battle to have contact
with their children and try to walk away.
DNA testing of siblings can create further
complications when one or more are shown not to be the genetic offspring of the
assumed father. Some alleged fathers will be prepared to raise these children as
their own regardless of the paternity of the child. Other Fathers will not be
able to consider children they didn’t father to be their responsibility. In
both these cases the alleged father will be able to make informed decisions on
the choices he makes.
Central to the debate on DNA testing and child support, is responsibility.
Firstly there is the financial responsibility. Built into the child support
formula is what is known as hidden alimony. The ideology behind this is that the
children should not experience a fall in the standard of living after divorce or
separation. In order for this to happen then the mother herself must not
experience a fall in her standard of living. So whilst women can divorce their
husbands, men can never divorce their wives whilst they continue to be the
provider (pay packet). In the United States one of the justifications given for
not relieving alleged fathers from paying child support is "what if the
child's biological father cannot be found or if he's on welfare? Who will
support the child?"
A dilemma caused by the DNA paternity debate is should alleged fathers support
financially non-biological children? In England, husbands were once held
responsible for the debts incurred by their wives and they were jailed in what
was called the debtor’s prison if they could not pay the debts of their wife.
In the 1950's 60's the father's role was little more than that of the sperm
donor and pay packet. Today the separated father is still regarded as a sperm
donor and pay packet.
"If mum lied about who dad is? What else has she lied about",
wrote one young boy who discovered his dad wasn't who he thought he was. Not
only is it unsuspecting men but children as well, who are hurt by the choices
and decision made by women who choose to conceive children to different men.
Research also shows that a significant number of children would not have been
born with inherited genetic disorders if the man they think is dad, was really
Fathers who request DNA testing and the results confirm that the child is
actually theirs express a sigh of relief and joy as the doubt over paternity is
The fathers who discover they are not the biological parent of their children
are confronted with feelings of loss and grief.
“A part of me died!” said, Morgan Wise when it was confirmed that 3
of the 4 children born during his marriage.
"I was forced to view it as pretty much a death in the family,"
said, Eric Demby Jr when it was confirmed the child he thought was his daughter
Men who are confronted with not being a
child’s biological parent also have to grieve as well for a relationship,
which they erroneously believed, existed. That their relationship with the
child’s mother was a sham and that they had been lied too and deliberately
deceived and exploited sometimes for many years.
The issue of non-paternity will not go away despite the efforts being made by
governments to make DNA testing without the mothers consent a criminal offence,
it confronts all of us with a number of moral dilemma's. For many years
researchers have shown that women are biologically programmed for monogamy and
it utterly shakes the assumption that women are biologically driven to
single-mate bliss. Justifications for the high percentage of non-paternity
include things like, revenge over an affair, seeking better quality DNA.
Feminist advocates often promote women as victims of male desire. The reality of
non-paternity confronts our perceptions and beliefs.
In a society which increasingly points the finger at the behaviour of men and
seeks to criminalize and punish male behaviour whilst denying men reproductive
choices. To make DNA testing by alleged fathers illegal without permission makes
fathers again dependant on the goodwill and decisions of others.
Unsuspecting fathers are secretly being exploited by unknowingly supporting
non-biologically related children they erroneously believe they have fathered.
Recently a woman was convicted of fraud in obtaining child support payments for
a child that didn’t exist.
Is paying child support for non-biological children another form of sexually
Copyright 2003 James Hickey
DNA tests mean more in deciding who's dad, some say, Pam Louwagie
Star Tribune Published Dec. 30, 2002
Mommy's little secret By CAROLYN ABRAHAM The
Globe and Mail. December 14, 2002
MG Le Roux, O Pascal, A David, and JP Moisan
Non-paternity rate and screening in
genetic disease analysis. Lancet, January 2,
1993; 341(8836): 57.
Prenatal paternity testing with deoxyribonucleic acid techniques” published in
the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1996
Sex, lies and DNA, Sarah Henderson, Herald Sun
Blood-Grouping Tests in Undisputed Paternity Proceedings", Sussman and
Schatkin, Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 164, No. 3, page
Dad Blood, If DNA tests prove that you’re not your children’s father, do you
still owe child support?
November 6, 2002 by Cathy Young