Children Consent to Paternity Test
The proposal comes as part of a recent government response to a 2003 report on protection of human genetic information and paternity tests.
A report by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Health Ethics Committee recommended that the government introduce laws giving young people, deemed to be of sufficient maturity, the choice of saying ‘no’ to a paternity test. “It was an empowering provision in terms of giving a children a voice in these proceedings,” said Professor Margaret Otlowski of the University of Tasmania, an expert on legal aspects of genetics.
Paternity Test – Voice of the Child
“It’s all very well for parents to consent to a paternity DNA test but if we’ve got a mature minor, 12 and up, with views about what they want, their consent to a test should be sought as well”. But the government has rejected this recommendation, claiming that it would be inconsistent with the Family Law Act.
Otlowski says while one would normally expect the court to take the child’s wishes regarding a paternity test into consideration, it may mean future rulings against children who don’t want a DNA test. “A 15-year-old child could be compelled to undergo a paternity test because a court thought it was in their best interest,” said Otlowski.
Ethics of Consent
Dr Astrid Gesche, of the Queensland University of Technology and co-author of a new book on the social, legal and ethical issues of genetic testing, sees consent as essential in all genetic testing and the paternity test. “The person involved in genetic testing is really a vulnerable person because genetic information is more than just clinical information,” she says. “It says something about your future, it says something about your past. It might influence certain decisions in life that you’re making.”
The issue of the paternity test has been a high profile one in recent years with some fathers commissioning a test without the mother’s consent and suing them for “paternity fraud“. In 2003, around 3000 DNA paternity tests were commissioned by Australian men alone and in almost a quarter of cases showed the children were someone else’s.
Men’s rights organisations argue that a DNA test gives presumed fathers peace of mind but that mothers are reluctant to agree to a if there’s a chance the paternity DNA test might prove that the the child is someone else’s. These groups also argue it’s unfair for men to be expected to pay maintenance for children that aren’t theirs. They opposed the 2003 report’s recommendation that both parents be required to give consent for children deemed too immature to make their own decisions.
Gesche agrees with the idea of mutual consent and she recognises the problems faced by fathers she also believes this approach may help to heal past deceptions. At this stage the government says it is consulting other organisations on the issue and has remained open to possible change in the law relating to parental consent and the paternity test.