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SECRET paternity testing Outlawed?
Herald Sun (Victoria)
19 July 2002
Paternity test review
by INGA GILCHRIST and LEELA de KRETSER
SECRET paternity testing is to become a criminal offence.
Judges, family lawyers and legal experts have predicted criminal sanctions
and regulations to stop suspicious parents stealing hair or cheek swabs
from their children.
Experts told the Herald Sun that regulation was desperately needed for the
thousands of private paternity tests conducted in Australia each year
because they were ripping families apart.
Family lawyer Jacqueline Campbell said secret fathers' tests were
"It's pretty destructive for a child to have a parent say: 'I don't think
you're mine'. I've seen through my clients the damage which is done to the
family and I can only guess that it's traumatising for the children."
The Australian Law Reform Commission is writing recommendations for new
laws on handling genetic information, including paternity tests.
Legal experts canvassed by the Herald Sun believe the recommendations will
urge government to:
FORCE fathers to get the mother's consent to do a test.
MAKE it illegal to steal DNA for a test.
ORDER mandatory counselling for families seeking a test.
IMPOSE a code of practice for private testing laboratories.
Dr George Rudy, scientific director at Genetic Technologies, said almost
20 per cent of men who underwent testing at his laboratory found they were
not the father.
A Melbourne man, whose private test revealed he was not the father of the
teenager he had known as his son, said criminalising tests would deny a
child's right to know its natural parents.
"My son doesn't have to live in doubt and living in doubt can be pretty
debilitating," said the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
Michelle Dent from Melbourne's largest private testing laboratory DNA
Solutions said the proposed legislation would deny her clients the right
to know. DNA Solutions conducts about 60 private tests a month. Fifteen
per cent of their clients get a result they weren't expecting.
But Council of Single Mothers and their Children president Margo Northey
said paternity testing was being used to accuse mothers of promiscuity.
"I've heard from so many women who are distraught because the man who they
think is the father of their child threatens or demands paternity testing," she
"In most cases it's a way for a man to publicly question her morality."
Melbourne university bioethicist and legal researcher Ainsley Newson said
Australia was likely to follow a UK recommendation for secret tests to be
"So for the Steve Bing case, that would be a criminal offence and (so would)
taking your husband's socks to get genetic material," Ms Newson said.
Film producer Bing was involved in secret paternity testing when a private
investigator stole his dental floss to prove he fathered a child with a
Hollywood mogul's wife. Bing was at the same time requesting a DNA test
to fight actor Liz Hurley's claim that he fathered their son Damian.
Ms Newson said the commission would probably adopt a protectionist
argument towards families and children, recommending counselling and both
Commissioner Brian Opeskin confirmed criminalisation of secret tests and
mutual consent were being considered by the ALRC for a discussion paper
to be issued next month. The commission will make recommendations to
the Federal Government next March.
© Herald and Weekly Times
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