Home Paternity Tests Fill the Shelves in British Pharmacies, and U.S. Companies Following Suit

Recent scientific advances have consistently revealed the awesome power of DNA to unlock mysteries of the human condition. Some breakthroughs are indisputably landmarks: the advent of DNA "fingerprinting" databases, the mapping of the human genome, and of course...widely available home paternity tests? Yes, the ability to harness the dynamic force of DNA has moved beyond the laboratory and into the home. And, for those wondering just where junior got those blue eyes, a non-intrusive paternity kit available in a handy little package may be just what they are looking for.

British Firms Cashing In

Recently, Britain's largest chain of pharmacies, Boots, has begun selling do-it-yourself DNA paternity tests at hundreds of its biggest retail locations. The testing kits are also available via the Boots website, and for just over 30 pounds (about $50), consumers can go home with a series of test swabs and instructions that will purportedly tell them whether or not a man is the father of a child with a typical accuracy of more than 99.99 percent.

Although this method of paternity testing is simpler and more widely available than any that have preceded it, it is not completely an at-home alternative. Users must still send their DNA samples to a lab to obtain results. Anglia DNA Services, the developer of the AssureDNA paternity kit available at Boots, charges a lab processing fee of 129 pounds (just over $200). Express delivery of the results is also available.

So how do these kits work? DNA is collected from the mother, child, and (potential) father by a simple, painless swab of the inner cheek. The swabs must then be carefully sealed in sterile envelopes to avoid contamination. After being received by the lab, technicians compare the DNA samples from the swabs, and send results back to the family.

Ethical Questions

Some experts have raised a number of moral questions about making paternity testing so accessible. Are families really prepared for the effects of an unexpected result? Beyond the obvious potential for a negative impact on previously close relationships, there could also be financial implications. And what about the child? Is he or she mature enough to understand the paternity testing and ready to accept the results in a healthy way?

Anglia DNA Services, Boots, and British law attempt to address some of these concerns through policy. To receive the results of an AssureDNA paternity test, mothers, fathers, and children over 16 must sign consent forms and provide photocopies of their passport, driver's license and bank card. For children under 16, a copy of their birth certificate, passport, or a photograph signed and dated by the mother is sufficient identification.

The mother's DNA sample, which strengthens results, but is not strictly required to determine paternity from a scientific standpoint, must also be included. The strict identification and consent requirements are meant to ensure all the parties involved know about the testing and have authorized the process to move forward.

In the United Kingdom, conducting a DNA analysis of another's genetic material without informed consent can be punished by up to 3 years in prison.

Home Paternity Testing Hopping the Pond

Home paternity testing kits similar to the AssureDNA model have been available in the United States on a limited basis for a few years. Most companies only offer kits online, with Identigene claiming to be the only U.S. firm to sell paternity tests in stores. But, with major retailers like Rite Aid and Walgreens beginning to carry paternity kits and estimated annual sales of around a million units, home DNA paternity testing seems to be a trend embraced by a growing number of Americans.

American testing companies, however, do not always hold to the consent and informational requirements of their British counterparts. For example, no DNA sample or even consent is required of the mother for Identigene tests (although a mother's sample is highly recommended for accuracy). Users should also know that the basic home paternity testing results are generally not admissible in court. Some courts will, however, admit paternity results from more complex (and generally more expensive) home tests.

With kits ever-increasingly available in the U.K. and at home, fathers seeking peace of mind and mothers looking for answers will have options. But, at the very least, anyone considering a home paternity DNA test has a lot to think about.