Paternity testing: Are you ready?

A close friend of mine asked me some time ago what company she should order a confidential paternity test from. I told her I wouldn't dig deep into individual companies until she was able to tell me she knew what she would do with the results. I haven't heard from her lately on this subject, so she either went ahead and did something on her own or gave up the idea for now.

In the past week or two, a couple of people submitting comments to geneforum have asked for the name of a paternity testing company. I responded as follows:

Check the New York State guidelines online. They have the strictest requirements. They will probably not name a company, but will tell you all the details you need to determine how to administer the tests. Remember that at least two tests (the offspring and the suspected father) will be needed.

In general, I would select a CLIA-certified lab. I would probably also select one that operates in New York State. If there are legal implications, a chain of custody is important in claiming person X is offspring's parent--eg, for custody rights or child support.

Both of my responses--wait until you know what you will do with the results and check NY guidelines--are still valid. Also, because I try to avoid naming companies, whether I am supporting or rejecting, I will not give company names in this blog. Two more caveats:

  • Testing and interpreting results are a lot more complicated than you might guess from all those talk shows on TV
  • I am neither a physician nor a genetic counselor. The information I'm giving is not intended as medical or legal advice.

Now, given all that, what can you do if you want to determine whether or not X is the father of Y? Let's say you're just curious and aren't planning any legal action (child support, marriage, divorce, etc.). Let's also assume you know what you will do with the results (forget the whole thing, confront him, kick him out, find your long-lost love).

Here's some things you might consider:

  • Try the free tests: Multi-trait paternity calculator or the individual calculators (date of conception calendar, blood type, eye color, ear lobes). If you don't know what information each of these provides, check them out individually for details. Until DNA testing came along, these tests were what people used.
  • Google "CLIA certified paternity testing".
  • Pick two companies whose listings (not advertisements) sound interesting. Do not pick by price alone.
    • Why do I say CLIA-certified? Although CLIA certification is for non-medical testing, this type of licensing and certification provides a greater assurance of the quality of testing conducted by a specific laboratory--from taking samples to reporting results. Certifications by AABB (referring to quality of blood tests) and ISO 17025 (referring to international quality systems standards for laboratory testing) are also helpful. None of the certifications refers specifically to paternity testing (or any genetic testing for that matter).
    • I would also suggest companies licensed in New York State, where paternity testing has very strict standards.
    • Why two companies? If the test is important enough to you, don't rely on the results from just one company.
  • Check out those companies' websites and see what they provide--ignore the hype stuff such as 99.999999% accuracy and look for information you can interpret. Check out a sample test result and see if this is what you're looking for. Do you know the difference between inclusion and exclusion testing? Check it out.
  • Ask yourself: Are all the potential subjects available for testing (offspring, potential father, mother)? Have all agreed to testing? If you take a sample without someone's consent you are breaking the law.
If you're still on board, go ahead and get the testing done. And, Good Luck! Let the rest of geneforum readers know what you learned--not the results, but the process. Are you glad/sad you did all this?
Marie Godfrey, PhD

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