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Cuckoo's eggs: becoming a father isn't difficult

Every tenth German baby is said to be illegitimate. A DNA-test brings clarity but also chaos and sorrow into the family. How a blessing can turn into a curse.

Becoming a father isn't difficult, being one is...
Picture by T. Micke

The father-to-be was actually never really sure but then everything happened so fast. They got married. The real doubts only surfaced when the good-looking boy with brown eyes turned 14 and grew taller and taller and taller. When he was 17 he suddenly grew raven-black hair and lots of it. Just like his daddy? No, not at all, daddy is blond and has blue eyes. On his chest are maybe two or three hairs to be found.

Also in mummy's family nobody looks that Italian. Finally, when the boy turned 18, his tipsy aunt made a bad joke about how he had no similarity with his father and his mother laughed just a little bit too much about it. That did it...

On the internet a skeptical father can find everything he needs to find out if it was him who rattled the headboard the night the child was conceived or his wife's ex boyfriend. Every tenth German baby is said to be illegitimate. The numbers probably aren't any different in Austria. Even if it is only one baby out of twenty, it's enough to make ten thousand fathers ponder and tempt them to start looking for the truth.

DNA tests can make you rich very quickly
Picture by T. Micke

We don't live in ancient Rome anymore where the mother can make up a foolproof lie to cover up her infidelity: maybe it is morally not acceptable but certainly better for the child and its family. Nowadays you can a find paternity test produced by a company from Graz on a shelf at the pharmacy next to deodorants and condoms. Actually it is only the starter kit with cotton wool wads for the saliva samples, a reply envelope and an instruction manual how to certainly destroy your family in case the test was a success.

According to the company's website, the whole procedure is very discrete: simply send the envelope with the samples to them and "experienced scientists" will analyze them for 550 Euros. You will receive the results after 7 days by mail, email or phone (just check the box with the preferred option). You can pay online, with your credit card or you can transfer the money from account to account. In urgent cases the results are available after 3 days. Shipping is included in the price.

Dr. Martin Gencik in his genetics laboratory
Picture by T. Micke

Dr. Christina Stein, head of the forensic medicine department in Vienna, isn't surprised about the brazenness: "These DNA tests are offered at 400-1000 Euros and are a good way to get rich fast. Anybody who has got enough money (about 200.000 Euros) to buy the needed machines can open a laboratory of that kind. In Austria, there is no law against it. We also conduct DNA tests on behalf of the court if the doubting father files an official complaint. Private persons may also contact us but only when both parents agree with the test. When a father secretly shows up with his son's pacifier, we send him straight back home. Even if the man groundlessly paid alimony for years and the matter has to be clarified. In my opinion the mother should be involved if it concerns an underage child. Until now there is no clear regulation by law. "

Dr. Martin Gencik who conducts an outreach clinic for genetic diseases and also makes paternity tests expresses his opinion on this topic: "In my eyes it is madness that basically any random person can get a hold of another person's DNA. We know so little of this tiny biological database that holds the entire information on a being. After all, in our laboratory can be determined if it is likely that the next generation will inherit a family member's disease like amyotrophia, hardness of hearing and certain mental disabilities.

This procedure often clarifies the situation for couples that want to have a baby. However, this is only the beginning. That's why DNA laboratories should certainly be controlled."

Everybody has already heard of "DNA analysis" because it is used to solve difficult murder cases or identify tsunami victims: a toothbrush, a drop of blood or a skin flake (like in the case of Rudolph Moshammer) is sufficient.

Dr. Martin Gencik
Picture by T. Micke

It sounds as if the scientists are "Lords of the Genes" by now but in reality it is more like a game of memory with expensive laboratory equipment: Specific DNA sequences of two individuals are looked at. Knowledge of what the sequence is good for is not required. DNA consists of four different building blocks. How often the four building blocks repeat themselves in specific sequences of both samples is compared. A computer turns the information into a combination of numbers. If the combination in all of the random samples is the same, the samples most likely come from the same person. Another success for officer DNA!

However DNA analysis is only 99,999% accurate. That means that if you search a delinquent in a city with the size of Vienna (1,8 million inhabitants) still 18 people come into question.

The investigators are lucky if the evildoer admits that it was he. Then all questions are solved. However when a father finds out that it isn't his child, his search for the truth only begins. The couple's love may not survive but the responsibility of the "social father" remains. Even a DNA test can't undo the relationship with the child.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (26-04-01) – Contact