DNA Matching: The End of Anonymous Paternity

One benefit of having a database with everyone’s genome in it would be that the paternity of anyone could be quickly and unambiguously identified.  This could prove tremendously beneficial to society.

Out of Wedlock Births

About 40% of all American births are now out of wedlock.  Most of these mothers, while at least not teenagers, are poor, high-school dropouts, ill-equipped to raise a child on their own, and likely to need government assistance.

One hears stories of some men actively setting out to deliberately leave a trail of illegitimate children behind them, none of whom they take any responsibility for, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill.

Mothers who receive government assistance for a child are currently required to try to help the government locate the biological father and hold him accountable.  Evidently, many of them don’t try very hard.  But perhaps this requirement could be amended so that, if any government assistance is to be had, the genome of mother and child should have to be sequenced and kept in government databases, to be cross-checked against the male population in search of the father.  If the father could be located, he could be held accountable financially, his wages garnished if necessary, relieving the taxpayer of some of that burden.  If a man then leaves enough illegitimate children behind, he will find himself so impoverished that he will be unable to wine and dine any more prospective mothers.

Then there are the minors.  I read in Atlantic magazine that when a 14 year old inner city girl becomes pregnant, the father is rarely a boy her own age.  It is usually an adult 22 years old or over.   Think about this — a 22 year old who impregnates a 14 year old, provided she goes through with the pregnancy, is doing enormous harm, both to her and to society.  She will probably never be able to achieve any reasonable educational or career goals she might have had (or at least should have had), and she is unlikely to ever find herself properly situated to have a child under conditions likely to result in good outcomes for that child.

But any 22 year old fellow who is enough of a lowlife to get a 14 year-old-girl pregnant probably has an arrest record.  His DNA is probably in the databases we already have.  Search for it, identify him, convict him of statutory rape, and throw him in jail for a long time.  If we do this often enough, word will get around, and men may become a lot more principled all of a sudden about respecting the virtue of young girls.

In Wedlock Births

Something like 3% of children born in wedlock are not biologically related to their legal fathers.  Some estimates are much higher.

What usually happens, when a woman cheats and becomes pregnant, is she never tells her husband, and he spends the next 22 years of his life helping to raise a child that is not his own.

Consider the magnitude of this fraud.  Were he to discover the deception at the end of the 22 years, if he divorces his wife, he is probably realistically too old to start a new family — he has lost the opportunity to procreate.  He has also invested tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of dollars in a fraudulent enterprise.

I read a news story about a man who suspected his wife of cheating, and had a paternity test done on their 6 year old child.  The child was not his.  He divorced his wife, who married the biological father.  The courts forced him to pay child support to the couple who had deceived him, for a child who was not his own.

Normally, the law is very clear — if you defraud somebody and take hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of something — money, time, hassle, suffering — from them, the law will hold you accountable and you are civilly liable to pay it back.  Yet a woman who defrauds her husband into raising a child who is not his — an enterprise that involves a tremendous amount of his money, time, hassle, and suffering, is not accountable at all.

These laws were obviously written before reliable paternity tests existed.  I can see the logic — lawmakers and courts were concerned about the welfare of the child, so it made sense to hold some male accountable to it.  If the legal father was not the biological father, there was no reliable way to track the biological father down.  So, however unfair it may be to a husband, the law evolved such that he was responsible for any sentient life form that emerged from his wife’s body, absolutely regardless of her behavior.

But if we had everybody’s DNA in a database along with their social security numbers, we could always quickly and reliably track down the biological father and hold him accountable, and let the poor cuckolded schmuck off the hook.  And as long as we have the interloper in our sights, we can hold him and the wife accountable for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the act of fraud they have perpetrated.  And it would be a court settlement, so the debt couldn’t be erased by bankruptcy.

We might evolve into a society where, when a divorce occurs, paternity testing of the kids is routinely done, especially if it was the wife who wanted out of the marriage — the husband might lose faith in her fidelity, and since the paternity test would have such important ramifications, property-wise, getting that information would be seen as a necessity.  It should certainly become impossible to collect child support from a man without DNA testing to prove that the child is his.

Some people might argue that only a very selfish and old-fashioned husband would be so concerned for whether his own genes are in the child.  After all, he had the joy of raising a child, and should be content with that.  Many people knowingly adopt children they are not biologically related to, and they lead happy lives.

If you consider that to be a persuasive argument, bear in mind that all the wife has to do to avoid fraud charges being pressed is disclose, early on, to her husband that the child might not be his.  If he doesn’t mind and sticks around, then no fraud is being perpetrated.  She can send him an email while he’s at work:

“Honey, just an FYI — I was regularly having unprotected sex with Ralph Furschlinger around the time I became pregnant with Timmy.  Oh, and please remember to pick up some eggs and milk on your way home. XXX – Diane”

We could also find ourselves in a situation where a man, realizing he has fathered another family’s child, decides to inform the legal father sooner rather than later, to avoid adding more years to the fraud being perpetrated.  Someone who thinks he’s a father could find himself invited to lunch by a male friend.  Upon arriving at the restaurant, he is led to a back room by the friend.  In the back room is a lawyer and a couple of burly bodyguards.  The lawyer does all the talking…

If we’re going to condemn a male who objects to raising kids who aren’t his, why not take it to its logical extreme — why not just have hospitals not put name tags on babies, but just mix them all up in one room, and when new parents are ready to go home, give them a child selected at random?  Only a very selfish and old-fashioned mother would object to being given a child who is different from the one she carried, and if she complains she should be chastised for being so backward in her thinking.

Segregation Revisited — A Modest Proposal

People, especially people with children, loathe having to be around crime. They will move heaven and earth to bring up their children in a place that is safe.

50 years ago, some of the country was explicitly racially segregated. Even in the supposedly enlightened north, there were subdivisions where the deed of every house had a clause that the house could not be sold or rented to blacks. This was obviously unjust, but it was a crude way to achieve an end — blacks had a much higher crime rate than whites, and by living in such a place, a white family who could not afford to live in a rich neighborhood could find themselves living in a much lower crime rate than they would have found in an integrated neighborhood.

This was obviously a terrible system — it did nothing to protect anyone from white criminals, it did nothing to help law-abiding blacks find a safe place to live, and was just so generally gross that such contracts eventually failed to stand up in the courts.

But people want segregation — not racial segregation, but they don’t want their families to live among criminals. To this end, people live in houses they can barely afford in remote places with long commutes — wasting huge amounts of energy and time, when all they want is the criminals out of the neighborhoods they live in. This has led to wildly escalating real estate costs, and a rash of foreclosures as people, in their desperate search of safe neighborhoods and better schools, bought houses they couldn’t really afford. Or that they could just so barely afford that any setback — a layoff, for example, would push them over the financial brink and into bankruptcy.

Spending a lot of money to buy a house is an extremely dangerous proposition, financially. If your family income decreases for any reason, such as an illness or layoff, it is very difficult to move to more affordable accommodations, especially in a down housing market. But Americans have been thus courting danger in droves, and paying the price. Elizabeth Warren, in her 2004 book “The Two Income Trap”, discusses how, long before the financial crisis, more Americans were going bankrupt than getting heart attacks, or getting cancer, or getting divorced, or graduating from college. Most of us don’t see the epidemic, because it’s usually a secret event. People usually don’t tell their friends about it. Sometimes they don’t even tell the kids.

Since people want this segregation and are willing to pursue it so vigorously, and with such catastrophic results, I propose a new means to segregation. Why couldn’t a town enact an ordinance requiring a criminal background check for any new home buyer or rental tenant? Existing inhabitants would be exempt and grandfathered in to the neighborhood, but new inhabitants would need to be checked, and if convicted of a crime after moving in, required to leave.

This way, a modestly priced neighborhood near to downtown could achieve a higher level of safety without bankrupting its inhabitants.

Children who are over 13 would have to be subject to the same restriction. Normally it is young men, including those in their late teens, who often terrorize neighborhoods and join gangs.

Segregation is a fact of American life, and not one that most people, especially families with children, are in any hurry to get away from. Segregation by race is gone, but it has been replaced with segregation by paycheck, incurring people to undergo tremendous financial waste just to prove what social class they are in. Let’s replace it with a system that allows law-abiding birds of all incomes to flock together.