Why mandatory DNA testing may not be a good idea

“There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”—Thomas Sowell

During the first International Conference on Men’s Issues, there were so many ideas thrown around that it is bound to baffle the people who are not familiarized with the non-feminist perspective on sexual politics. There was also dissent. This is good, but it will also mean that in the next months, a lot of people with an open mind will be busy processing new information.

We’ll focus on one particular idea that floated around the conference—the proposal that DNA testing (or paternity tests) should be mandatory at birth. According to the proponents of this trade-off, this measure would tackle paternity fraud in an efficient manner and would bring the truth as a standard in the relationships of the parents. The truth part is indisputable, but is it really that efficient? And even if it is, at what cost does this efficiency come? Is there a better trade-off between the status quo and the trade-off proposed at the conference?

Since we’re not in the business of criticizing for the sake of criticizing, we’ll analyze what’s wrong with this trade-off and propose an alternative one.

1. Unnecessary cost

Whenever we talk about a service that is to be made mandatory by public policy, we ought to ask ourselves two questions: What is the cost? and Who pays it?

The cost of a paternity test in Europe varies by country (except for France, where it’s de facto illegal). In Switzerland, for instance, a laboratory offers the service at a cost of almost 250€ per child tested[1]. In Britain, the most circulated number in the media for a reliable test is £200 (a little over 250€), while in countries like Romania, such a test costs somewhere around 170€[2]. A particular case is Sweden, where such a test can reach up to over 380€ per child tested[3] and slightly less in Norway. Having said that, it is safe to say that the European average cost for such tests is 250€.

And who is going to pay for the mandatory procedure? If we’re going to have the state pay for it, at a rate of 250€/father and child tested, the UK government, for instance, is in big trouble since Britain is going through a baby boom at this point, with 813,000 births recorded in 2012[4], which would mean over 203 million euros on this issue alone. Would British taxpayers be willing to fund that? Some media outlets are crying that the state spends too much now on paternity tests, although the actual amount is around 500,000€ per year[5]. Even for Germany, the country with the lowest birthrate in Europe, such an effort would still mean over 165 million euros[6] to cover their over 660,000 births yearly.

In a period when the governments are running out of money, it’s highly unlikely that such a cost could be set on the governments of Europe.

If we don’t put the burden of paying on the state, then we have to put it on the parents somehow.

Considering that in Germany, for instance, 250€ represents more than a quarter of many Germans’ net income, can we seriously expect single-earner families to spend that much money on information that they might not need?

The situation is even worse in countries like Czech Republic, where the gross minimum wage is beneath 330€ per month[7]—which means that the net income is even lower than that. The point is that even in affluent areas of Europe, this would still be a significant cost imposed on all individuals who choose to become parents and in less affluent areas, it might prove to be a disaster.

2. Is the information really so relevant?

For tricked fathers, there is no doubt that the information really is more than relevant. But does this justify an imposition of a cost upon all parents?

The data on rates of paternity fraud is scarce and unreliable to say the least. But there is one thing that everyone agrees on: paternity fraud accounts for a minority of births.

The most scary numbers say that 30% of children have a different father than the one listed on the birth certificate, whilst the most conservative numbers go for one child in every classroom.

In other words, in the majority of cases, or dare I say, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, mothers and fathers get along with each other and are generally truthful. This is a fact observable no matter who you’re talking to—even the most hardcore radical feminists acknowledge this, albeit grudgingly, since they tend to resent this reality.

Having acknowledged this reality, is it really efficient to put everyone through the hassle just to get an accurate statistic?

3. Difficulties in implementation

Since we’re talking about a compulsory procedure, this means that there needs to be a way to enforce it. And with that comes a huge list of problems.

A significant number of births don’t take place in state hospitals in Europe. A third of Dutch women give birth at home[8], and whilst some countries, like Hungary for instance, tried to make home births illegal, the European Court of Human Rights struck down and insisted upon the unalienable right to give birth at home[9]. Since these births occur at home, these are the parents least likely to be willing to abide by this mandatory procedure.

And how would it be enforced? Using the carrot or the stick? If it were state-funded, a carrot would be possible, but that would add to the already high and unbearable cost mentioned earlier. Also, it would turn out to be another monument of inefficiency since the state has proven time and time again how ineffective it can be when it comes to processing applications for pretty much anything.

If it were paid by the parents, the stick seems more appropriate. But how far should the stick go? A fine? And how big should that fine be? Not to mention that most civil fines like these can be relatively easy to avoid in most European countries and in a perfectly legal way.

Also, if the law is too tough (e.g., involving the local versions of Child Protective Services), families would rightfully protest the mandate for being way too intrusive.

4. Denial of choice

There are such cases when the father listed on the birth certificate knows he isn’t the father yet assumes paternity anyway for whatever reasons. I know of such a case when the biological father died in some NATO war. And it’s a certainty that such cases exist all over the world.

Now, I would never advise in good conscience any man to do such a thing, especially not in Europe or North America, but, on the other hand, responsible adults ought to have the right to make that choice, especially if it suits the needs of the child as well.

If this mandate were implemented, these men would then be put through the long and excruciating process of adoption, which, thanks to the countless moratoria put in place by the European Union, can take years for no reason whatsoever other than inefficient bureaucracy (if you pardon my pleonasm).

A better trade-off: Limited mandate and more freedom

A better trade-off would be to mandate the procedure only when it comes to child support payments. It only makes sense that if you are to force a man to pay child support, you should be damn sure that you get the right man, not just any random bloke who was unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—like the few horrible cases presented at the conference. In these cases, if the wrong man is indicated, the test should be paid by the mother (not like the case today in Britain, where the state pays if the mother indicates the wrong man), and if the correct father is indicated, the test should be paid by him.

But other than this particularly narrow situation, paternity tests should be a negative right—that is to say, the state ought not to impede a man or a woman from seeking a paternity test. This is the case in present-day Bosnia, where suspecting mothers and grandmothers are seeking paternity tests as they fear that their sons/grandsons have been duped into raising a child that is not theirs[10].

In other words, any restriction on paternity tests should be abolished. It is really a shame that a country like France outright bans paternity tests, and it is also particularly dubious when some countries require “consent of the mother” for getting a paternity test, thus creating an inherent conflict of interest within the law favoring women who do commit paternity fraud. Also, the time limits for seeking a paternity test for contesting an assigned legal paternity should also be abolished. A paternity test should be admissible in court regardless of whether the child is 3 months old or 17 years old.

With this trade-off, only those interested in the topic would bear the cost without burdening everyone else. Also, the choices remain in place for individuals who want to make them (see argument no. 4), the difficulties in implementation would be severely reduced, and the costs associated would also be far more affordable for most governments.

Also, the law ought to reflect paternity fraud as a more serious crime than it is now. For starters, a mother guilty of paternity fraud should be mandated to pay reparations to the man defrauded.

This trade-off isn’t perfect either—that’s why it’s a trade-off and not a solution. Under this arrangement, there would still be individuals who would trick the system, but the cost for the taxpayer and for the victims is far lower than it is under the status quo in Europe and undoubtedly far-far lower than the status quo in the US.

We live in an imperfect world and sometimes bad people do bad things—but the way to correct this is not by imposing an additional cost upon the majority of people who do not do bad things.

 

References:

[1] https://payments.easydna.net/products/index.php?location_id=14&product_category=1

[2] http://www.testepaternitate.ro/pret

[3] http://www.metro.se/nyheter/faderskapstest-blir-allt-vanligare-en-av-fem-ar-inte-pappan/EVHmhB!ySEtpADm1imhA/

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-23618487

[5] http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/297162/Jeremy-Kyle-paternity-tests-cost-CSA-a-fortune

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/21/germany-birthrate-low-falling

[7] “Minimální mzda od 1. 8. 2013”. Mpsv.Cz.

[8] http://www.expatica.com/nl/health_fitness/healthcare/why-the-dutch-cherish-home-births–43528_9488.html

[9] http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2010/12/21/european-court-makes-homebirth-legal-in-hungary/

[10] http://inserbia.info/today/2013/09/paternity-test-in-bosnia-and-herzegovina-every-third-not-a-father-of-the-child/

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