DNA test as close as your local drugstore
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Forget the spectacle of "The Maury Povich Show."
People with lingering doubts about paternity can now go to the drugstore and quietly buy a home paternity kit.
Beginning yesterday, Rite Aid started a national rollout of the Identigene DNA Paternity Test Collection Kit, with a suggested retail of $29.99, but sold at some stores for $19.99. That price does not include the $119 to have a lab evaluate cells wiped off the cheeks of the child, alleged father and mother, and send the results.
The test result will not hold up in court, but that's not the intent, said Doug Fogg, chief operating officer for Sorenson Genomics of Salt Lake City, the maker of the product.
"This is for people who are just curious. It is peace of mind for people who want to know but do not want to involve a physician or an attorney," Mr. Fogg said. "They might want to know the paternity of their child or their own paternity so they can rely on family medical history."
It is just the latest example of genetic testing going straight to consumers.
"We call it DIYH -- do-it-yourself health care," said Lynn Dornblaser, senior new product analyst at Mintel, a global research company in Chicago. "There is an increase in home kits -- home pregnancy kits to take home and collect samples to determine genetic predisposition relating to heart conditions or Alzheimer's. Consumers are more and more focused on working it out themselves and solving their own problems."
Ms. Dornblaser said a home paternity test fits the trend, but it is a little surprising. "'I am going to the store for diapers and a paternity test.' It has to be very embarrassing for anyone to buy this." The test's maker said it is 99.99 percent accurate, and the laboratory facility that tests results is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Consumers have the option of calling the company and paying extra for a third party to collect the sample and get a result that will hold up in court.
But ethicists said there is no federal oversight of any paternity test maker's claims, and there are many new paternity tests being advertised on the Internet.
"Given the profound and ethical implications of a paternity test, you want to make sure the answer is correct," said Gail Javitt, law and policy director at the Genetics & Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University. "There is no oversight to make sure that the tests are clinically valid before they go to the public."
Art Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, also worries that people might try to get samples off of an unwilling participant in his sleep.
"It is possible that someone would say, 'Hey, dear, guess what? We are having a fight about whose kid it is. Why don't we spit in a cup?' Not everyone is going to want to do that. I think it raises red flags about sneakily getting DNA samples."
Mr. Fogg counters that it would be hard to sneak a sample because it is not a saliva test, but a tissue test that requires 45 seconds of vigorous swabbing on the cheek. The company requires the written consent of people tested.
Dr. Caplan believes a determined mother could get a sample off a sleeping subject, and he questions the emotional fallout of paternity testing without counseling. There are other unforeseen consequences.
Candace Komar, a family law attorney in Pittsburgh, said, "There are paternity laws in Pennsylvania that if a child is born to an intact marriage, there is a presumption of paternity. You may do a paternity test and find the child is not yours and you will still have to be the parent. You still have child support obligations and custody rights."
But Mr. Fogg said he has known people who did paternity tests, and it brought them peace of mind. One middle-aged woman had lingering doubts that her father was her blood relative and the test confirming that he was brought her great relief.
He said the company tested the product on the West Coast, and sales exceeded expectations, especially among women in their 20s.
He believes people who raise ethical concerns don't understand the test.
"It is not a diagnostic test. The results are straightforward and easy to understand," he said. "It does not require physician analysis. You can go to your local Rite Aid and get a very affordable kit and get answers about the paternity of yourself or your child."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 28, 2008) The laboratory facility that tests results from the Identigene DNA Paternity Test is accredited by the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks). This article as originally published Mar. 26, 2008 incorrectly implied that the test itself was accredited by the AABB.
First Published March 26, 2008 12:00 am