CBS News recently reported the case of a mother who had conceived a daughter through an anonymous sperm donor. The young mother thought she was doing her daughter a favor, she had her own and her daughter’s DNA tested. She wanted to connect her daughter to her heritage, but when the test results pointed to potential relatives, things took an unfortunate turn.
Her situation – which I believe can comfortably be described as a fiasco – illustrates several legal points that merit your consideration. First, the broad strokes:
- Don’t sign anything you haven’t read. And remember that, nowadays, “clicking” can often constitute signing. When someone asks you to sign something, it almost always means “Contract!” “‘I mean, you just click the boxes,’ Teuscher said.” And clicking the boxes means you consent. Consent is a contract.
- Look after your children; they have long futures ahead of them. In the face of all this, and after allowing herself to be quoted, “My daughter is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being who did not sign that contract,” Ms. Teucher allowed her five-year-old daughter’s photo to be published with the story. And she included her full name! That’s irresponsible and dangerous.
- As to the daughter who “did not sign that contract,” the fact of the matter is that minors cannot be bound by contracts. But you, as parents, can be bound on their behalf!
The story also raises some important points about the science, and the practical reality, of DNA and DNA testing:
- Parents generally should NOT do completely voluntary DNA testing on minors. If they do, they should NOT publish that information on genealogy websites, nor make it available for “matching” by others. Let the child decide when they reach an age when they can consent, and thereby be legally liable for any consequences. Without knowing what the future holds for a child, rendering them indisputably identifiable could jeopardize their life, health, or welfare in any number of readily imaginable circumstances.
- If you are considering getting a DNA test done for genealogical purposes and your parents are still alive, you may wish to have a candid conversation about this with your parents. Your mother in particular. Do it before you submit to testing. It is scientific fact: if your conception was not the product of relations between the person you know as your mother and the person you know as your father, it may very well be revealed by the test results that one or both of the people you believe to be your parents is, in fact, not. You may also find yourself less-closely-related to your siblings than you previously thought. Give your parents the opportunity to discuss with you before you test the possibility that you (or one or more of your siblings) were conceived out of wedlock or adopted.
- DNA testing is routinely used to narrow the field of potential suspects in criminal investigations. For example, authorities used DNA test results and a genealogy website to track down the ‘Golden State Killer’ suspect decades after the crimes were committed. Many states, including North Carolina, require the collection of DNA samples from some convicted criminals, and the information obtained by testing those samples could be used to link the defendant to other crimes. DNA testing has also been used to exonerate convicts who were wrongfully convicted in numerous cases.
DNA testing is powerful and valuable, and grows more powerful every day. But like most advanced science, it is not with out its perils, some of them unforeseen. There are laws in place that address some protections against genetic discrimination, including GINA, (the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act, a US federal law that protects against employment discrimination), but they are far from comprehensive.
Do you have personal experience with other problems or issues arising from DNA testing, especially as it relates to tracing family history, or testing of minors?