Can testing save a marriage?

By Hu Yan, Shanghai Star. 2001-10-04

Paternity test helps in criminal cases. In everyday life, some husbands resort to the test as a means to prove if they are cuckolded

"In our centre, cases about fathers hoping to confirm blood relationships with children take a big share. Fortunately, only 20 per cent of the fathers have been excluded as the biological father of the child." Li Li, Deputy director of The Laboratory of Forensic Biology

JOHN Xu had been racked with doubt after he took his four-year-old son with him to work. One of his

colleagues said, "The boy doesn't look like you at all. Could it be the son of someone else?" Other colleagues agreed. Xu initially took it as a joke.

But later he observed his son carefully and realized there were few similarities in their physical characteristics or personality. However, the boy's eyes and nose were identical to a close male friend of his wife.

Xu's suspicions about a possible affair between his wife and the friend disturbed his family's peace but his wife had no idea about the cause. Xu periodically quarreled with his wife and vilified her with accusations about her faithfullness. Eventually, she turned to turn paternity testing to prove she was in the clear.

The couple took their son to the Institute of Forensic Sciences under the Ministry of Justice for paternity testing. The results proved he was the biological child of Xu and his wife.

"Paternity testing used to be found only in forensic biology but now it has wider use, especially dealing with civil affairs or disputes," said Li Li, deputy director of The Laboratory of Forensic Biology in the institute located next to Suzhou Greek.

DNA test

Since the 1980's, paternity testing has developed into an effective and accurate technique to confirm the blood relationship between parents and children or siblings.

DNA is the genetic material in the cells. Every cell is made up of 46 chromosomes, half of which come from the sperm cell of the father and the other half from the egg of the mother. Thus, a person receives half of his/her DNA from the biological mother and the other half from the biological father.

"Blood used to be the only sample used for paternity tests," Li said. "Fresh blood was required to be sent to our laboratory within 24 hours. Now, they just need several drops of blood or the blood absorbed by a small piece of gauze to give to our laboratory."

In addition, the test can be performed on a much wider variety of samples, including those from body tissue, hair, cells from the cheek, amniotic fluid and others. An overseas Chinese couple whose child lives in the United States even had a paternity test done in Li's laboratory by sending three samples of their hair. "Since DNA in these cells is the same as in the blood, the accuracy of the test from such samples is no different from that of blood," Li said.

The scientists magnify the DNA in the samples several million times, making them large enough to reveal hereditary information. By comparing samples, it can be determined, based on certain hereditary principles, if a blood relationship exists between the samples.

"At least 13 DNA samples should be tested. The blood relationship can be absolutely excluded if two or more probes don't match. The accuracy of paternity testing in our laboratory is about 99.95 per cent," Li said.

To determine whether the alleged father is the biological father of the child, the mother needs not be tested. However, she is usually required to be present during the testing.

Testing sites

Only two institutes in the city are approved to perform paternity tests and provide test results: Li's institute and the Shanghai Blood Centre. Both deal with civil affairs but the latter only accepts cases sent by the courts or other judicial departments.

Paternity testing is used widely in certain types of civil affairs. As in Xu's case, for example, the blood relationship between parents and children can be confirmed. In addition, paternity testing provides proper certification of an existing blood relationship among those who inherit money or immigrate to foreign countries.

The technique is also helpful in dealing with criminal cases. "Once, a 13 year-old girl was raped and got pregnant. By testing the amniotic fluid, we got the DNA sample of the infant, which matched the sample from the biological father, the convict," Li said.

In recent years, both of the institutes have recorded an increasing number of paternity tests performed. The majority are civil affairs, indicating that the advanced scientific technique has been accepted and used increasingly by the public.

Li's laboratory performed over 500 paternity tests last year, while about 700 have been done to date. At the Shanghai Blood Centre, several hundred such tests are done every year and the number is rising steadily, according to the centre's Zou Zhenrong. The centre has performed nearly 1,000 paternity tests over the years.

Experts said paternity testing in China has shown an overall increase of more than 20 per cent."This indicates that the scientific technique has been well developed. It also reflects people's improved consciousness about legal as well as social problems such as the high divorce rate and more family disputes," Zou said.

"In our centre, cases about fathers hoping to confirm blood relationships with children take a big share," said Li, who didn't reveal the exact number of such cases. "Fortunately, only 20 per cent of the fathers have been excluded as the biological father of the child."

In most of those cases, the father took the child for paternity testing without the mother present. "If the wife refuses to take the paternity test, she could have some secrets," said Li. Statistics show that 37 per cent of the fathers have been excluded as the biological fathers if the wives have refused to submit test samples. However, the rate drops to 14 per cent if the wife agrees to take the test.

"I have long doubted about whether the child is my natural child, but my wife refused to take the paternity test," complained a man who refused to be named, "So I have to take the child for the test secretly. All I hope is a good result to eliminate my suspicions."

"Those fathers have very nervous and contradictory feelings when getting the results," said Li. "On the one hand, they are eager to know the truth; on the other hand, they dare not accept the truth even though they have imagined it many times."

Ongoing debate

Paternity testing is more than a scientific technique providing evidence. It relates to many other social issues such as the family, law and morality. Some local sociologists are worried that the technology will be abused once it is more available to all members of society, thus hastening the breakdown of the family and causing more divorces. Some lawyers believe that fathers should have the right to know the truth and paternity testing offers that possibility.

"I believe the technique won't lead to the death of families. If the husband is suspicious about his wife, the proof can eliminate his doubts and promote their family. If divorce is inevitable, paternity testing with satisfying results won't save their family," Li said.

However, as a new business, there are no regulations or laws in China governing paternity testing. Experts said it's urgent to map out DNA standards and build qualified centres aimed at keeping order within the industry.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.