An MRA and my frequent meme-muse, Why mandatory DNA testing may not be a good idea. In it, Lucian offers a number of counter-argument to my argument that paternity testing should be mandatory at birth, some of them took me by surprise, a good number of them made me think.
has posted the following article:
I recommend reading the article first, then this reply. I welcome your thoughts, especially if you’re a woman.
We’ll focus on one particular idea that floated around the conference—the proposal that DNA testing (or paternity tests) should be mandatory at birth. According to the proponents of this trade-off, this measure would tackle paternity fraud in an efficient manner and would bring the truth as a standard in the relationships of the parents. The truth part is indisputable, but is it really that efficient? And even if it is, at what cost does this efficiency come? Is there a better trade-off between the status quo and the trade-off proposed at the conference?
I’m not sure the argument of efficiency comes in, but the question of cost is one that is worth addressing. It’s easy to overlook if one is not a hospital administrator.
1. Unnecessary cost
Whenever we talk about a service that is to be made mandatory by public policy, we ought to ask ourselves two questions: What is the cost? and Who pays it?
Yes, fair enough, and to be honest, I had not considered it. Then again, do you consider the cost of trash collectors or bridge repairs? It’s worth considering, but I have two issues with making this central to an argument.
The first is that taxes are collected into what is basically a slush fund and such funds are then distributed in what seems to be some discretionary manner. Have you ever received an itemized tax receipt that lists where every penny of your personal tax payment was spent? Probably not. We can know these numbers, but they are usually in aggregates. Perhaps this would be a good thing to demand of one’s government.
My other counter-argument is that regardless of one’s political stance, governments and tax systems are a defacto reality, and as above, not only are the funds collected first in slush fund and then distributed, but the general notion in how tax moneys are distributed is that everyone, at least in theory pays for a bit of everything. While I’m not a big fan of taxes, if we want to enjoy the benefits from a system that we have no choice but to work with, these services must be funded. This could lead to a whole other series of arguments as to the functioning of government, but this is beyond the scope of this one issue.
The real question is whether the price/benefit relationship makes it worthwhile for the population as a whole.
And who is going to pay for the mandatory procedure? If we’re going to have the state pay for it, at a rate of 250€/father and child tested, the UK government, for instance, is in big trouble since Britain is going through a baby boom at this point, with 813,000 births recorded in 2012, which would mean over 203 million euros on this issue alone. Would British taxpayers be willing to fund that?
I don’t think it’s relevant to ask if a population wishes to pay for X service. How many people would be willing to pay for tax collectors? Or the police that give fines? I’m willing to bet the number is low, yet, they do nonetheless.
Some media outlets are crying that the state spends too much now on paternity tests, although the actual amount is around 500,000€ per year. Even for Germany, the country with the lowest birthrate in Europe, such an effort would still mean over 165 million euros to cover their over 660,000 births yearly.
Again, there will always be complaints, regardless of the service. Nobody wants to pay a cent more in taxes, this is human nature.
In a period when the governments are running out of money, it’s highly unlikely that such a cost could be set on the governments of Europe.
I don’t think this is an issue at all. What are external wars costing our respective countries? The government simply doesn’t care. Like all large maintenance organizations, it’s in the business of collecting money.
If we don’t put the burden of paying on the state, then we have to put it on the parents somehow.
/me nods. If we don’t put the burden on the state. I’ve seen no strong case against that yet.
Considering that in Germany, for instance, 250€ represents more than a quarter of many Germans’ net income, can we seriously expect single-earner families to spend that much money on information that they might not need?
250€ represents more than a quarter of many Germans’ net income. Over what time period? A week, a month, a year? It seems evident to me that none are going to pay for a paternity test every week. At most, one per year, per new birth. More likely, 2-3 times per lifetime, based on the average family rate. Consider all of the tax deductions that one receives, more specifically, that the mother receives with the birth of each child. Whose paying for that? What if the price of the test were simply deducted from these additional funds she receives. Same for a man, should he receive any.
The situation is even worse in countries like Czech Republic, where the gross minimum wage is beneath 330€ per month—which means that the net income is even lower than that. The point is that even in affluent areas of Europe, this would still be a significant cost imposed on all individuals who choose to become parents and in less affluent areas, it might prove to be a disaster.
This seems a bit like catastrophising. I imagine at the scale of populations, that this would be nothing but a boom for labs, government run, or private, and that would bring the cost down.
2. Is the information really so relevant?
For tricked fathers, there is no doubt that the information really is more than relevant. But does this justify an imposition of a cost upon all parents?
I think so. In fact, the information in aggregate can serve much more than a one-by-one case. One can not only keep better health and genetic records, but accurate statistics upon which policy can be formed.
The data on rates of paternity fraud is scarce and unreliable to say the least. But there is one thing that everyone agrees on: paternity fraud accounts for a minority of births.
The most scary numbers say that 30% of children have a different father than the one listed on the birth certificate, whilst the most conservative numbers go for one child in every classroom.
No, we can’t agree on that. We aren’t interested in “the most scary numbers” (Ugh!), we’re interested in the best numbers we can find, and you’ve made the case that we don’t know, and that it could be as high as 1 in 3, or as low as 1 in 30. Across a million people, we are still talking about thousands of men being bilked for false child support payments, having their lives turned upside down legally, financially and emotionally.
What would you be willing to do to bring justice for 1000 men? What would you do to prevent 1000 cases of any fraud, a crime, against anyone? This is much cheaper than any police investigation. Now multiply this for each million in a population.
In other words, in the majority of cases, or dare I say, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, mothers and fathers get along with each other and are generally truthful. This is a fact observable no matter who you’re talking to—even the most hardcore radical feminists acknowledge this, albeit grudgingly, since they tend to resent this reality.
And in the majority of cases, there is no tax evasion, no murder, theft, fraud or drunken driving. Shall we defund preventative measures against these because we guess that the majority of people behave well?
Having acknowledged this reality, is it really efficient to put everyone through the hassle just to get an accurate statistic?
No, you have made a claim and accepted it as a reality, but you haven’t made a case that convinces me.
3. Difficulties in implementation
Since we’re talking about a compulsory procedure, this means that there needs to be a way to enforce it. And with that comes a huge list of problems.
Yes. Another way of stating this is that any task has a series of steps to take and trade-offs to make. We do this when we shop for groceries, or choose a new government service to implement. That you call them “a problem” doesn’t mean that they are in fact problems.
A significant number of births don’t take place in state hospitals in Europe. A third of Dutch women give birth at home, and whilst some countries, like Hungary for instance, tried to make home births illegal, the European Court of Human Rights struck down and insisted upon the unalienable right to give birth at home. Since these births occur at home, these are the parents least likely to be willing to abide by this mandatory procedure.
And how would it be enforced? Using the carrot or the stick? If it were state-funded, a carrot would be possible, but that would add to the already high and unbearable cost mentioned earlier. Also, it would turn out to be another monument of inefficiency since the state has proven time and time again how ineffective it can be when it comes to processing applications for pretty much anything.
Births at home are fairly uncommon in Canada, so this one took me by surprise. Interesting catch. To the point: these parents might be the least likely to be wiling to abide by the procedure, but they do in fact register the child’s birth with the government anyway, don’t they? The kid is going to need some sort of id to go to school, get a driver’s licence, etc? They are willing to take these steps, and I’m going to hazard that they probably do, universally. What if such ID were contingent on the child getting all the tests, shots and procedures, including one extra test, the paternity test? This seems like an evident solution to me.
If it were paid by the parents, the stick seems more appropriate. But how far should the stick go? A fine? And how big should that fine be? Not to mention that most civil fines like these can be relatively easy to avoid in most European countries and in a perfectly legal way.
Also, if the law is too tough (e.g., involving the local versions of Child Protective Services), families would rightfully protest the mandate for being way too intrusive.
See above. I think you’re creating problems where they don’t naturally need to be accepted.
4. Denial of choice
There are such cases when the father listed on the birth certificate knows he isn’t the father yet assumes paternity anyway for whatever reasons. I know of such a case when the biological father died in some NATO war. And it’s a certainty that such cases exist all over the world.
And? How is this relevant or a denial of choice? You are arguing for a parent’s right to remain ignorant of the truth. I suppose they do have that right. That there are statistical exceptions does not make a good argument for trashing a solution that can
a. Give the parents accurate information;
b. Give the government accurate information;
c. Give the child a step up in terms of knowing what medical conditions it might expect;
d. Give the parents and the child a solid sense of who their relations are;
e. Prevent the defrauding of men and of government (read: the tax-payer)
Now, I would never advise in good conscience any man to do such a thing, especially not in Europe or North America, but, on the other hand, responsible adults ought to have the right to make that choice, especially if it suits the needs of the child as well.
And which of the child’s need does ignorance of the facts serve? This argument surprises me, coming from an evidence and fact based thinker such as yourself.
If this mandate were implemented, these men would then be put through the long and excruciating process of adoption, which, thanks to the countless moratoria put in place by the European Union, can take years for no reason whatsoever other than inefficient bureaucracy (if you pardon my pleonasm).
Hypothetically, but not obligatorily. And there’s more to the world than just Europe.
A better trade-off: Limited mandate and more freedom
A better trade-off would be to mandate the procedure only when it comes to child support payments. It only makes sense that if you are to force a man to pay child support, you should be damn sure that you get the right man, not just any random bloke who was unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—like the few horrible cases presented at the conference. In these cases, if the wrong man is indicated, the test should be paid by the mother (not like the case today in Britain, where the state pays if the mother indicates the wrong man), and if the correct father is indicated, the test should be paid by him.
As a transition, a post-hoc solution, this seems to be a good one. I did not think that you were arguing that a 50 year old person have a paternity test done with his 80 year old father. We are talking about children, that is, persons under the age of majority. Beyond that age, it becomes a matter of negotiation between adults.
But other than this particularly narrow situation, paternity tests should be a negative right—that is to say, the state ought not to impede a man or a woman from seeking a paternity test. This is the case in present-day Bosnia, where suspecting mothers and grandmothers are seeking paternity tests as they fear that their sons/grandsons have been duped into raising a child that is not theirs.
In other words, any restriction on paternity tests should be abolished. It is really a shame that a country like France outright bans paternity tests, and it is also particularly dubious when some countries require “consent of the mother” for getting a paternity test, thus creating an inherent conflict of interest within the law favoring women who do commit paternity fraud. Also, the time limits for seeking a paternity test for contesting an assigned legal paternity should also be abolished. A paternity test should be admissible in court regardless of whether the child is 3 months old or 17 years old.
Again, we are in agreement.
With this trade-off, only those interested in the topic would bear the cost without burdening everyone else. Also, the choices remain in place for individuals who want to make them (see argument no. 4), the difficulties in implementation would be severely reduced, and the costs associated would also be far more affordable for most governments.
I’ve shared my counter-arguments.
Also, the law ought to reflect paternity fraud as a more serious crime than it is now. For starters, a mother guilty of paternity fraud should be mandated to pay reparations to the man defrauded.
This trade-off isn’t perfect either—that’s why it’s a trade-off and not a solution.
I find this to be a very sensible statement, one that I wish more people would adopt in light of the realities of the world.
Under this arrangement, there would still be individuals who would trick the system, but the cost for the taxpayer and for the victims is far lower than it is under the status quo in Europe and undoubtedly far-far lower than the status quo in the US.
While it certainly would be welcome reduction, it still lacks certain benefits. Additionally, I’m sure that one can think of many situations whereby clear paternity testing at birth might forestall a whole series of issues that would not be need be addressed post-facto. Consider: if the cost of a paternity test would be say 1000€ or $1000, what is the cost of the typical sequence of court cases, lawyers, fees, etc.? Which of the two is less? Which is the better deal for the parent? As for the government, we understand that court costs is an income source, so this might be one way of providing a reason to reduce taxes.
We live in an imperfect world and sometimes bad people do bad things—but the way to correct this is not by imposing an additional cost upon the majority of people who do not do bad things.
While I certainly appreciate the sentiment, I find this argument to be an appeal to emotion, rather than a practical one. The overall solution, is seems to be, based on your presentation and my limited knowledge of your political stance, is that your solution is based not so much on pragmatic trade-offs, but on an idealized sense of how the world should be, and I don’t disagree that in a perfect world, people would be better, and goverment would be a small, tight and exceedingly efficient core that runs with the highest degree of integrity, but this is not the world we live in. It is, as you say, a matter of trade-offs, based on what is, rather than what should be.
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I welcome your feedback.