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Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles - 2002

The whole truth about paternity testing

The National Post, David Menzies,Saturday, August 24, 2002

While Jerry Springer, Maury Povitch and other trashy television shows would be lost without the "outing" of fatherhood identities of various trailer-park guests, not all paternity testing is the same.

Wayne Murray, a manager at Maxxam Analytics in Guelph, Ont., says the majority of laboratories conducting paternity testing in Canada are unaccredited. "The only way to ensure quality is through accreditation," he says, adding the official sanctioning of Maxxam's laboratories by the Standards Council of Canada costs "thousands of dollars each year."

The high cost of obtaining accreditation is likely why some labs are not embracing the process -- especially since they are not required to do so by law.

The paternity testing process is relatively simple. DNA analysis can be performed from a simple cheek-swab sample using a soft instrument resembling a Q-tip. Results of the test are typically released within 10 days.

While most paternity tests cost about $600, some labs -- typically those that are unaccredited -- charge as little as $425 to do the job.

A test can be undertaken on an alleged father and child only, although the cost of the test is about the same as testing mother, father and child because additional sampling is usually needed when father and child are tested to obtain a conclusive result.

Paternity also can also be established by testing both paternal grandparents when the father is not available.

Some companies, such as San Jose, Calif.-based GeneTree DNA Testing Center offer do-it-yourself "personal paternity tests" starting at US$225.

While GeneTree states on its Web site that the accuracy and reliability of its at-home test is "greater than 99.99%," Mr. Murray warns that home-conducted tests are not admissible as evidence in a court of law.

To eliminate the possibility of fraud, a Maxxam lab employee photographs a father as he provides a sample.

Mr. Murray says that some men required to undertake paternity testing have gone to great lengths, such as sending friends or relatives purporting to be the alleged father, in order to sabotage the test. To ensure the right individual is tested, the photograph is presented to the mother for verification.

"About 75% of the time, the mother is pointing the finger at the right person," Mr. Murray says.

Val Ambrosino, a family law lawyer at Toronto-based Torkin Manes Cohen Arbus LLP, says the accuracy rate of a modern paternity test is "almost 100% ... it [paternity test] is referred to as an 'absolute certainty,' " he says.

Mr. Ambrosino says a court typically mandates a paternity test when a woman asserts a man is the biological father of her child. If the man disputes this claim, the test is ordered, with the man usually picking up the tab.

Mother, father and child are required for the most accurate tests.

Still, when asked why there are no government regulations requiring laboratories to be accredited, Mr. Murray responds: "That's a good question."

When paternity is to be established in immigration cases, Citizenship and Immigration Canada mandates the use of accredited labs only, he says.

Mr. Murray says a botched paternity test can lead to aggravation and heartbreak. A bungled test can also prove financially draining if the mother must embark on a search for the father.

While it is unknown what the error rate is with paternity tests conducted by unaccredited labs, Mr. Murray says there have been documented cases of fathers "falsely excluded" because of mix-ups at labs by testers. Bottom line, he says, is that for a test "so potentially important," clients need to choose a lab based on more than price alone.

Copyright 2002 National Post