Over-the-counter paternity tests are to become available in more pharmacies across the UK, despite concerns being raised about the dangers of offering this service without medical supervision. Last week 'International Bioscience', a leading DNA analysis company, began marketing its paternity testing service to the UK through 'Clockwork pharmacies'. The UK's first over-the-counter paternity tests went on sale in pharmacies earlier this year, marketed by the company 'Anglia DNA ', sparking concerns about how such services should be regulated.
The 'International Bioscience' paternity testing test kit costs £30. It contains six mouth swabs to collect samples of DNA from cells inside the cheek. Samples from both the child and alleged father are required, but the mother doesn't need to be involved in the test. The DNA samples are placed inside a pre-paid envelope and posted to International Bioscience, which is based in Kent. An extra charge of £119 is required to send the DNA samples to a laboratory in America for analysis. The test results become available within five days of arrival at International Bioscience.
Parental consent of the child is legally required for the processing of the test. If samples cannot be obtained from the relevant parties using the mouth swabs, then the company's website lists alternative ways of collecting DNA: for example, from clothing (including, hats and underwear) cigarette butts, licked envelopes, toothpicks and gum.
Although it is illegal to take samples from an adult without their consent following the Human Tissue Act [2004/2006], critics say that these genetic tests increase the probability of so-called ' DNA theft'.
'We have serious concerns about over-the-counter genetic tests of this kind,' a spokesman for the Human Genetics Commission, the Government's advisory body on genetics, told the Daily Mail. 'DNA theft is a criminal offence and companies testing samples they have received through the post may not be able to establish that they have been freely given.'
Other dangers associated with these tests include the potential damage to the child and the possibility of breaking up families. 'We don't think DNA samples should be taken from a vulnerable child when it is not for the child's benefit. The result of the test is likely to be harmful,' Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, told the BBC. 'What are you going to tell the child when you are taking the sample - 'I don't know if you are my child or not?' she added.
But the company insists that the test is safe and that appropriate counselling is offered as part of the service: 'International Biosciences takes the responsibility of paternity testing seriously, and has taken advice from religious groups and child welfare organisations,' said a spokesperson for the company. 'It provides a telephone line manned by a qualified counsellor, plus a range of other contact details for anyone thinking about purchasing a kit.'
He added: 'International Biosciences believe they have adopted responsible practices in selling paternity kits, and that in a free society there is a right to DNA information.'
Paternity tests have been available to buy online for a decade and over-the-counter in America since 2007. Based on these sales, Ian Meeks, the chief executive of International Bioscience, told BBC Radio Kent [as reported by The Daily Telegraph in July]: 'Our internet business has been immense demand. The experience from America [to buy them over-the-counter] is huge demand.' He also said that approximately half of the paternity tests carried out by International Biosciences proves the man is not the biological father of the child.
The UK Human Tissue Act received Royal Assent in November 2004, and was fully enacted on September 1st 2006. Whilst its main focus is to redress the inadequacy on the law on tissue retention the inclusion of the 'DNA theft' clause in the Act (section 45) has implications for good practice in relation to paternity testing.