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.

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