The daddy of all DNA tests
“The daddy of all DNA tests”
According to an Irish DNA paternity-testing agency, the numbers seeking its services are up 80 per cent on this time last year – but why?
MICK JAGGER has had two. Eddie Murphy, Boris Becker, Kevin Costner and Paul McCartney have all had one. Even the one-time husband of Evita, the late Juan Peron, had one, though he was dead at the time and presumably long past caring about the results.
So what is it that links all these high-profile men, or for that matter, brings women such as Liz Hurley and Mel B together? Paternity DNA tests – all of the above have at some stage had recourse to DNA testing to find out, once and for all, who’s the daddy.
They’re not the only ones, however, as a company that provides DNA testing in Ireland revealed this week. According to Dublin-based Ormond Quay Paternity Services (OQPS), more Irish people than ever before are looking to establish paternity with scientific certainty, with the numbers seeking their services up 80 per cent on this time last year.
It’s a staggering figure, though given that the company has only been offering paternity testing for 18 months, it may be dangerous to extrapolate. In Cork, however, Cellmark Ireland, which has been offering Irish people a similar service for over six years, is also seeing greater numbers of Irish people looking to DNA tests to determine paternity.
“I think people are becoming more confident with DNA, and more aware of the power of DNA testing,” offers Prof Alan Dobson of Cellmark Ireland. Brain O’Dwyer of OQPS believes there is more to it than that. “We personally believe it’s a consequence if the drink and drug culture that is so prevalent in Irish society,” he says.
The interpretation of the limited data available from a process that is protected by strict client confidentiality rules makes for a less than scientific process, and headlines claiming that “One in seven fathers “not the real parent” ”(Sunday Times, January 2000), serve only to muddy the waters further.
“Of all the results that we have analysed, in one in three cases, or 35 per cent, the person is not the father,” says O’Dwyer, who insists that this figure be considered in context. “You might read that initially and think it’s very high, but you have to look at it and see that all the people who do DNA tests do it because there is a strong suspicion in their mind that the paternity of the child is in question.” In other words, to conclude from these figures that one in three of us is calling the wrong man “daddy” would be to ignore what any scientists might call sample bias.
At Cellmark Ireland, the figure stands at about 25 per cent.
In a recent OQPS case where the parentage of a 50-year-old man was called into question, the fact that the man’s putative father was dead did not preclude the carrying out of a paternity test. “His [widow] rang us and organised a test with her deceased husband’s brother and her son,” explains O’Dwyer. “We were able to determine that indeed the deceased person was the father.”
There are clear benefits to these technological advances. Those eager to silence the gossips need only pick up a telephone and call a company like OQPS to order the test. The kit they receive involves three coloured envelopes – pink for the mother, blue for the alleged father, and yellow for the child – containing oversized cotton buds known as buccal swabs.
These are rubbed inside the cheeks of all concerned, placed in the relevant envelopes, and sent back to the centre with signed consent forms, before being forwarded to a laboratory in Britain.
Though these tests – setting the client back €350 – may silence wagging tongues, they are still not admissible in a court of law. In legal cases, a specific, court-approved test must be ordered, to be carried out by a GP, who will require photo identification and an additional fee, bringing the cost up to somewhere in the region of €600, and €100-€200 extra per additional person, that is, for each possible father.
All this to establish parentage, an issue increasingly contested in cases of maintenance, access, guardianship or inheritance proceedings, most of which are heard in the Family Law Court in the District Court, thought they can also be heard in the Circuit Court.
Legal battles aside, the answers provided by the analysis of skin cells can have profound emotional implications for those involved. “People have been tremendously upset and tremendously happy with what it is that we offer,” says O’Dwyer. “I’d have people in my office almost kissing me, and of course I’d have the reverse.” O’Dwyer has also spotted what he sees as a trend in the kind of results his company issues. “The people who are terribly nasty to us on the phone, they generally end up being the father, and the people who are so nice, they tend not be the fathers,” he says.