Crucial genetic information can now be obtained over the counter thanks to do-it-yourself DNA paternity tests, now sold in chemists throughout the US.
Who's your daddy?
It's private, discreet and cheap at only US$29.95 potential parents can pop down to their local pharmacy and pick up Identigene, a do-it-yourself paternity test, which is now available in 30 states throughout the US. There is currently no word on when, or if, the test kits will be available for purchase in Australia,
Douglas Fogg, chief operating officer for Identigene, says the test provides easy answers to one of life's most crucial questions. And he expects to sell at least 52,000 of the kits to inquisitive dads this year.
"Everyone is purchasing tests because they're curious," Fogg says.
A question of ethics
Understandably, for genetic experts, the marketing of do-it-yourself DNA tests raises concerns about accuracy and ethics.
"From our perspective, direct-to-consumer genetic tests raise issues [such as] potentially misleading or false advertising and the potential for making profound medical decisions on the basis of poorly interpreted or understood results," says Rick Borchelt, a spokesman for the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Aside from the obvious concerns regarding the reliability of results and the consumer's ability to correctly interpret the results, legal experts also worry about the emotional complications. At the very least, the kits have the potential to complicate the lives of those who use them, they caution. Professor Alta Charo from the University of Wisconsin also claims that because the cell samples are taken in private, there is also the potential for fraud and deception.
How it works
The test is simple: the kit comes complete with swabs for collecting cell samples from inside the cheeks of the child and the alleged father (a collection of the mother's cells is not required, but is highly recommended to strengthen the results). Once the cells have been collected, the swabs are packaged and sent to the Sorenson laboratory in Salt Lake City, where they're analysed. Three to five working days later, the results are sent out via phone, mail or online through a secured website.
Cheap? Tick. Easy to use? Tick. Accurate? Another tick. The test results come back as a probability figure that is 98-99 percent accurate. Of course, the accuracy of the result is one thing; the honesty of the person who collected the cells is another. As Professor Charo cautions, the private nature of the collection process does create opportunities for deception.
The cost, including kit and the laboratory processing fee, is US$150. For potentially life-changing information, that's a bargain!
But the jury's still out…
The test results may be accurate, but whether these results will stand up in court remains to be seen. Susan Crockin, a lawyer who specialises in reproductive technology, says consumers shouldn't count on it.
"The jury's still very much out on these tests in terms of reliability and establishing a chain of custody," she says.