New paternity test available

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

It's Maury Povich's favorite question: Who's the daddy? For the first time, it can be answered after swinging by the pharmacy.

Rite Aid and Meijer stores in central Ohio and across the country are selling the Identigene DNA paternity test kit, priced at $29.99 and marketed for "alleged father, mother and child."

It might make for an awkward purchase, but "not many things create social embarrassment anymore," said Steve Bodhaine, a health-care analyst at Yankelovich, a consumer research firm. And consumers increasingly are interested in taking care of health needs themselves, he said.

Since the home pregnancy test made its debut in the 1970s, the number of do-it-yourself medical products available on store shelves has grown to include everything from blood-sugar monitors to fertility tests.

Several companies, including Identigene, also sell paternity and other genetic tests online. Identigene's store-bought paternity test is simple enough to use: Those being tested rub a swab inside their mouths for about 30 seconds and send the samples, along with a $119 fee, to the company's labs for processing.

The labs are nationally and internationally accredited. Identigene, a part of Utah-based Sorenson Genomics, has been conducting DNA tests since 1993. It isn't so much the tests themselves that have some medical experts concerned. It's what happens three to five days later, when users get their test results through the mail or online.

"As with so many tests that are sold over the counter, the paternity test is not a problem until somebody gets results they don't want to get," said Jonathan Schaffir, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University.

He refers patients who want paternity testing to a genetics counselor, who can explain a child's risk for inherited diseases or other medical questions that test results might inspire. "Many people misunderstand what the results mean, which is why it's very helpful to have a professional go through the results with them," said Anne Matthews, a genetics professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Establishing paternity, with the predisposition to inherited diseases and conditions that it might bring, could be unsettling to some. Identigene says customers can ask to speak to a staff geneticist when they call the company's toll-free phone number.

Links to psychological and genetic counseling services also are available on the company's Web site.

The company also warns that results from the over-the-counter kit are not admissible in court, unless the customer pays a $200 fee to have the test supervised by an independent third party. But the test isn't intended for legal use, such as establishing paternity for child-support or custody reasons, said Doug Fogg, Identigene's chief operating officer.

"There are people who just simply want to know," he said. Schaffir agreed that that's how the kits should be used. "If you just want it for peace of mind, I think there's probably a decent market for it, and most people could handle the information without too much difficulty."