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Opinion: Courts Right to Bar Secret Testing

Helle Jeppesen (dc)
January 14, 2005

A federal court in Germany has ruled that secret paternity tests are inadmissible as evidence in a lawsuit, as such tests hurt the personal rights of the child. It was the right decision.

Secret paternity tests: just the tip of the iceberg?Image: AP

It's not the hens, but rather the roosters who've been clucking and cackling for days now in the great German chicken run. But unfortunately humans don't live like birds, since everything would be so much easier.

Either there'd be a maximum of one rooster per henhouse, meaning paternity could be established without a doubt. Or else the hens would live among themselves. This would rule out the hatching of any little chicks, but at least the question of paternity would be moot.

But no, people are complicated. And social debates in Germany are even more complicated. On the one hand, Germans have been complaining for years about declining birth rates, and moaning that women today neither have the time nor the desire to have kids.

On the other hand, those women that do become mothers are accused of being promiscuous and cuckolding their husbands by tricking them into supporting children that are not their own.

What is a father?

Vater und Tochter fahren Bahn
Image: BilderBox

This is the background to an essential question: What is a father? Is he the man that a child grows up with, who shares in the responsibility and joy that comes with raising a child? Or is a father the man who bears financial responsibility for a child, even against his will? We all know there are enough of those around.

The number of single mothers supporting their children on welfare because the father won't pay -- or won't pay enough -- is rising from year to year. It's not without reason that children are often portrayed as a poverty risk in Germany, not least because in the case of divorce, the cost of raising a child is mostly borne by just one parent, in most cases, the mother.

The legal dispute also raises the question whether a parent's love -- in this case, a father's love -- is determined by genetics? Does a man love his child only because it carries his genes? Or does he love the child as a person?

Those who answer the first question with "Yes" would, by that logic, also have to be against every form of adoption, because, if that were the case, it would be impossible to love an adopted child.

Numbers impossible to prove

There's also the question of whether the numbers in this debate are correct -- whether every fifth child in Germany is, in fact, the child of an adulterous relationship. There's no real way to verify this -- even the federal statistics office would have to pass.

So are we really dealing with a modern myth, one that plays on age-old fears? Men's fear of being cheated on by their wives seems to have staying-power.

But if the numbers are right, then they would imply that endless numbers of "faithful" husbands were fathering babies with women other than their wives. For this reason alone, you'd expect men to be a little calmer about the whole issue.

Calmness is also advisable, because the court's verdict is, essentially, correct. If genetic tests conducted without the consent of those affected were admissible in court, then the consequences of such male vanity would be more than widespread.

In principle, every employer could then secretly carry out genetic tests on staff members, and make further employment dependent on their risk of illness.

Insurance firms would have the same right. The nice insurance salesman who makes house calls to draw up contracts for his customers would only have to politely ask to use the toilet to collect DNA samples for every member of the family. Insurance premiums according to our genetic disposition would become the norm -- and certainly, no one wants that.

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