No sooner is one baby war almost over than another begins. DNA is everywhere: yet more women want a sample from the billionaire Stephen Bing and a high court case in Britain aims to give individuals conceived by artificial insemination the right to information about their donors.
Fathers and children are questioning relationships that previously had to be accepted on trust (one dilemma mothers are happily spared). And they are taking it upon themselves to find the answers. DNA tests are no longer the preserve of professionals in bringing philandering presidents, pop stars and perverts to account.
Doubting dads who can’t afford to send private detectives to rummage in their rivals’ bathrooms have, quite literally, been pulling their hair out, along with locks from their genetically suspect offspring. They send them to “discreet” paternity testing services, breezily advertised on the internet. These agencies, keen to capitalise on the rise in father complexes, promise to match up your genes, or otherwise, for less than the cost of a Mothercare pram. I would not be surprised if we soon found such helpful little kits in Boots, perhaps next to the pregnancy tests and above the condoms.
DNA tests once looked like a good thing for women. They could be used by child support agencies to compel errant fathers to pay up. Now they are being co-opted by divorced dads in the hope they might get let off the hook altogether. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a similar surge in women enjoying “non-exclusive relationships” to justify this outbreak of male insecurity.
The Human Genetics Commission has recommended that the acquisition of DNA without consent, such as Bing’s discarded dental floss, be treated as theft. On the less seedy side of the ethical debate, Baroness Warnock, whose inquiry led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1991, now advocates removing sperm donor anonymity. She rightly observes that we have become much more sensitive to the idea of genetic inheritance. But it does rather seem likely to depress the supply of donors: an enjoyable way to make a quick buck is suddenly turned into a lifetime’s involvement.
We may be in the era of genetic technology and cloned animals. However, despite all that talk about new fathers, one thing has not changed: men want little to do with children.