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Ethical Concerns on Paternity Testing During Pregnancy


In some cases, paternity testing during pregnancy leads to abortion if they are carrying their illicit lover’s child. With the absence of prenatal DNA testing on the NHS, going private is the only option.

Despite the ethical controversy surrounding prenatal paternity tests, these tests are on the increase, with an estimated one in 25 men unknowingly bringing up another man’s child. Back in January 2009, news focused on paternity issues as the result of the case of Elspeth Chapman who was raised for 17 years by an unrelated man whom she believed to be her father. Miss Chapman carried out a paternity test in 2004 after having discovered the true identity of her biological father. Talking about the incident, Miss Chapman described how her non-biological ‘father’ was hurt and humiliated once he realised that Miss Chapman wasn’t his biological daughter.

A company which claims to be one of the main sources of genetic tests in the UK, admitted that women do use prenatal DNA testing with a view to aborting their unborn baby if they have the ‘wrong’ father. Tens of thousands of DNA tests are carried out in the UK every year with several hundred of these being prenatal DNA testing.

Whether it is a case of a woman needing to clarify the paternity of her child to determine if it is her lover’s child – so that she can abort it if she has had an affair and doesn’t want her husband to know, or she needs prenatal DNA testing to satisfy the husband who is demanding to know just who is the father. Besides abortions, prenatal DNA testing can also result in adoption, the ending of a marriage or even to legitimise an affair.

For prenatal DNA testing to be performed, written consent by the person whose cells are being tested is required. Two methods are used to perform the test on the mother. Either tissue from the placenta (chorionic villus) is taken usually by inserting a needle through the wall of the abdomen, between weeks 11 and 18 of the pregnancy, or a sample of the amniotic fluid from the womb (amniocentesis) is drawn during or after week 15. The man in question needs to provide either a sample of blood or a swab from his cheek cells.

Commenting on the increase in prenatal DNA testing, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, Josephine Quintavalle declared that this is a worrying situation. International Operations Manager for International Bioscience, Mark Pursglove, stated that whilst the company did offer prenatal DNA testing to ascertain paternity, it did so only as a last resort.

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