Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Genetic Ties without Genetic Reductionism?

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Genetic Ties without Genetic Reductionism?

Article excerpt

Who's the daddy?" "Are you the father?" Phrases like these urging DNA-based paternity testing began appearing on billboards in the 1990s. Around the same time, angry "duped dads" began appearing in courtrooms demanding release from parental obligations. Sometimes the parties in these cases claimed that the children involved had a right to know their genetic origins, a link to the emotionally charged debate over identity rights in adoption and assisted reproduction. For the last two years, the consequences of this application of new genetic technologies have been the subject of a research project, "Genetic Ties and the Future of the Family," led by Mark Rothstein and myself from the Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and Tom Murray and Greg Kaebnick from The Hastings Center, and aided by consultants from a variety of disciplines. The project, funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, is now nearing completion.

Although the findings of the project cannot be set out in a few paragraphs, two themes will suffice to convey something of its flavor:

Minding the media. A project triggered by billboards would not succeed without the participation of a first-rate media scholar, and we benefited immeasurably from the involvement of the late Dorothy Nelkin, professor of sociology at New York University. Diane Scott-Jones, a developmental psychologist, argued that family relationships are influenced by "cultural scripts" that describe those relationships, and Dot Nelkin showed us that the cultural scripts related to paternity testing work to undermine trust and restraint and obscure the complexity of family relationships. Four themes dominate the media accounts: infidelity and paternity fraud are so rampant that every father should be suspicious, people urgently need to know the biological truth about their children, "real" relationships depend on DNA, and testing will resolve uncertainties. …

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