Thursday, 13 November 2008

DNA- Dads Now Alright

DNA has hit the headlines in recent days.



The first step was that Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, seems likely to accept an Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation that there be laws to prevent non-consensual DNA use - for example a stalker who takes a glass that you have drunk from in order to get your DNA.



Here is his media release from last week (with links added):




The Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, today released
a discussion paper
for public consultation about new laws covering DNA
theft.
“The rapid development of human genetic technology which allows
genetic testing on hair follicles, saliva and cheek cells have made tighter laws
necessary.
“Non-consensual genetic testing may involve physical harm, where a
bodily sample is taken by force, or emotional harm, where the paternity or
identity of the individual is questioned, or genetic predisposition to illness
is identified without that person’s consent.
“However the proposed new
offences don’t interfere with the use of DNA testing by the police or courts or
lawful access to private paternity testing by parents and guardians,” Mr Debus
said.
An Australian
Law Reform Commission Report
from 2003 [the
2002 discussion paper is here
] recommended that offences be developed on DNA
theft, raising concerns about privacy and discrimination and the possible misuse
and inappropriate disclosure of samples.
The Discussion paper was endorsed
by the Standing
Committee of Attorneys-General
and examines the nature of DNA theft and the
harms that flow from it, as well as the response of other countries to the
problem.
The Discussion Paper proposes the following draft model offences for
consideration.
Obtaining bodily material for genetic testing
the use of
bodily material for genetic testing
and the disclosure or use of results
from genetic testing.


Fairly non-controversial one would think, except that men who want to get DNA testing of their children, to determine whether the children are in fact theirs, would now be committing an offence if they did so without first getting the mother's consent or a court order. Bob Debus has now said that men will not be prosecuted for establishing paternity.



Here is today's media release:



PATERNITY TESTING DOUBTS CLARIFIED
The Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus
has today given an assurance that fathers
would not be penalised for
conducting legitimate paternity tests under proposed new
laws on DNA theft.
Mr Debus said while a Discussion Paper released last week seeking public
consultation on DNA theft raised the issue of paternity, it would not stop
any father
from having the right to determine whether a child was theirs.
“What we’re attempting to legislate is the misuse of the results of
paternity tests,
which can cause great embarrassment and hurt for
individuals if they’re disclosed
without the person’s knowledge.
“The
offences are targeted at people who steal DNA or use genetic testing for
improper purposes, for example, to obtain sensitive personal information
about a
person’s identity or health.
“If a paternity test revealed that
a person was not related to their known family, it
could be used by another
family member to contest a will or to publicly embarrass
someone.
“A
result could also reveal a genetic illness, which could be used to harm or cause
embarrassment by disclosing it to an employer.
“There has been
widespread confusion about the possibility of fathers being jailed for
determining paternity but the Government has no intention of removing this
right.”





In addition News Ltd papers undertook Freedom of Information searches and follow up and discovered that 20% of the men who undertook paternity testing discovered that they were not in fact the father of at least one child tested. I suppose the good news is that 80% of the men who had doubts about whether they were the father or not now know that they are.

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