In a perfect world, the father-child relationships would be based on trust alone. And until recent times, trust was pretty much the only option available to doubting family members. Today, if there is any question about the relationship between a man and his supposed offspring, a DNA paternity test can provide a solid answer.
Early paternity tests (available in the 1920s through the 1970s) relied on methods like blood typing, blood serum testing, or blood protein analysis. But these paternity testing methods were inexact. While they could exclude some men as being the father, they could not conclusively prove fatherhood.
In the 1980s, DNA paternity testing appeared on the scene. The primary advantage of DNA paternity testing over earlier ways of checking was that conclusive positive results were now obtainable. Since a child inherits DNA from his mother and father, a DNA profile can compare any DNA not matching the mother to the man in question. The man being testing can be confirmed or excluded as the father with an accuracy of 99.99 percent or greater. The only disadvantage to these early DNA paternity tests was that the method used, known as RLFP, required large amounts of DNA samples and a long processing time. As a result, DNA paternity testing was difficult, expensive, and available to limited numbers of people.
In the 1990s, advances in DNA technology led to a new method for DNA paternity testing. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA testing could be accomplished with much smaller DNA samples, and the samples could be collected from any part of the body. This meant that DNA paternity tests were easier to administer and they became more common and less expensive.
So now, DNA paternity testing is no longer exclusive to the rich or infamous. More and more fathers are choosing to achieve peace of mind, satisfy their curiosity, or to address the legal issues of child support, custody, or inheritance. By providing a sample of their DNA along with a sample from their supposed offspring (and in the best case scenario, a sample from the child’s mother), fathers can eliminate any doubt about the true nature of the relationship.
The American Association of Blood Banks recently reported that up to 30 percent of men who took paternity tests turned out to NOT be the biological father of the child in question. Observers comment that this number is artificially high and not a true picture of paternity. Especially when a mother alleges that one of several men may be the father, men are tested who would otherwise not have been, increasing the number of exclusions.
Some experts warn that the ease of DNA paternity testing masks the huge emotional, legal and financial consequences for the parties involved. They point out that when supposed father are excluded, the child loses financial support and the benefits of the father-child relationship. Some advocates are pushing for routine DNA paternity testing at birth, citing the low pain, low cost nature of newly available DNA tests. If paternity is established from the beginning, there will be less chance for disruption of family relationships later.