Should Genetic Trophy Hunting Be Outlawed?


And what about testing residues from your spouse's underwear without his or her permission? The latter falls under the rubric of "infidelity testing" as a new article in the New Scientist explains. Last month, in my column "Exposing Obama's Genome," I looked at how celebrity genetic testing might occur and what, if anything, should be done about it. I concluded that, for the most part, such genetic trophy hunting, while mildly titillating for some fans, is unlikely to be a big deal.

But what if a celebrity, or for that matter your spouse, objects to surreptitious genetic testing? Britain outlawed such sneaky testing back in 2006. There is no federal law against such testing, but some states do prohibit it. For example, New York state makes it illegal to perform genetic tests or disclose results without the consent of the person being tested. However, as the New Scientist reports:

Test Infidelity [a company located in Chatsworth, Calif.] is just one of dozens of US companies offering to test DNA taken without the knowledge of the people concerned. Many firms advertise infidelity testing services or offer "discreet" paternity tests. These allow a man to determine whether he is the father of a child without letting anyone else know what he is up to, or a woman to tell whether a man is the father of her child without involving him in the process.

While the total number of stealthy DNA tests being conducted is unclear, interviews with genetic testing companies indicate that thousands are being run each year in the US alone.

Paternity testing can tear otherwise stable families apart. But the good news is that recent data suggests that 98 percent of the time the children that men are rearing are their genetic offspring. On the other hand, 30 percent of men who seek out paternity testing find out that they are right to be suspicious. 

I suspect that the push to ban stealthy paternity testing will disappear as genetic testing of all newborns becomes widespread and routine. 

The New Scientist article focuses on paternity testing because it clearly does have the potential to disrupt families. As for infidelity testing, it doesn't seem much different than hiring a detective to uncover a spouse's trysts. Evidently, the sources quoted by the New Scientist couldn't think of any great harm that would come from testing the DNA of celebrities. So should genetic trophy hunting be outlawed? After all, a breakfast half-eaten by Obama–touted as having "His DNA is on the silverware."– was sold on eBay for 99 cents last spring. My guess is that fan-testing of celebrity DNA will become just another minor irritation, like paparazzis, that come with fame. 

Note: Although I am pretty much the opposite of a celebrity, anyone who wants to test the random DNA I shed as I go about my life is free to do so.