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The perils of home DNA tests Nature will always factor into personal identity

Merry Christmas champ (David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Merry Christmas champ (David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)


November 17, 2023   5 mins

One of the greatest threats to familial harmony in the 21st century is the home DNA test. Stories of psychological devastation abound, from finding out your father isn’t your real father to discovering the imminence of a terrible disease. Perhaps you’ll discover you have an unusually high proportion of Neanderthal DNA, to the great annoyance of your spouse; or maybe you’ll even find out you’re related to a serial killer. In France, private commercial testing has been banned since 2005 in order to “preserve the peace of families” — perhaps not surprising when you also remember that 38% of French women admit to cheating on their partners.

But if, despite all the risks, you find yourself positively longing to find lost genetic relatives, a testing kit may be the way to go. This week, the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority has recommended that the identities of sperm and egg donors be made knowable to recipients from birth, on the grounds that the widespread use of home DNA test kits has made attempts to preserve donor anonymity futile in any case.

Under current law, a donor-conceived young person turning 16 gains the right to discover the height, weight, eye and hair colour of the person who contributed at least half of her genetic material, along with generalised information about ethnicity, marital status, and the number of other children, if available. Only at 18 are clinics permitted to send out information about a donor’s full identity — name, date of birth, and last known address. But in the meantime, databases can be used to track down close genetic relatives by comparing your DNA results with those of others. There are several Facebook groups and non-profit “search angel” agencies that will help, leading in many cases to identification of donors for those who want to know.

On a cynical reading, the popularity of such kits is yet another reflection of our narcissistic culture and its obsession with identity — understood as something socially marketable that elevates you into desirably select company and away from the common herd. Certainly, across the political spectrum there are those who take DNA results as implying something positively fascinating about them as individuals, whether this involves celebrating the discovery of supposedly pure white ancestry or thrilling to the thought of unknown distant Jewish forebears. But in another more basic sense of “identity” — meaning one’s private sense of self — testing clearly offers hugely significant information about immediate biological origins to those who lack it.

Granted, within philosophical theories of personal identity, there is a tendency to favour a certain configuration of qualitative psychological aspects as the definitive factor, rather than prioritising the biological make-up of a particular human organism. (John Locke, for instance, thought that personal identity was determined by continuity of memories — according to him, complete amnesia made you a whole new person.) But even if identity in this fundamental sense is determined by psychological not biological factors, the fact remains that beliefs about your birth parents usually make a big difference to your psychology. In a recent survey of donor-conceived people, 85% reported a shift in their “sense of self” upon learning of their origins, and about half “sought psychological help in order to cope”. Nearly 74% said that they “often or very often” thought about the nature of their conception.

It’s really not hard to understand why that might be. Indeed, you might assume that the rise in the popularity of home DNA testing has proved the final nail in the coffin for the myth that people can be socialised into total indifference about immediate genetic forebears. For a long time now, academics in the humanities have been churning out arguments to undermine the importance of bloodlines — whether that’s by ideologically prioritising nurture over nature and ignoring potential genetic confound; mounting pejorative attacks on the spectre of “biological essentialism”; or arguing, with stunning post-structuralist chutzpah, that biology generally is a socially constructed fiction. But still, in practice, most people have remained stubbornly immune to this intellectual pressure.

In a society obsessed with building hierarchies of suffering, there can sometimes also be a suspicion that, should you mention the psychological importance of knowing about your immediate origins, you are somehow discriminating against anyone who lacks such knowledge. More generally there is distaste for ever defining any aspect of family in terms of biological connection, for fear of hurting those orphans, adoptees, or donor-conceived people who don’t know much about theirs.

The preferred argumentative move here seems to be: take something traditionally defined in terms of a biological role (in this case, the concept of a parent); identify some socially important activities that tend to accompany that role (for instance: caring, nurturing, defending a child from harm, and so on); then hive those activities off conceptually from the biological substrata, and redefine the original concept in terms of the social stuff alone. This argument works much better for the concept of “parent” than it does for the much-discussed concept of “woman” — partly because parenting is an activity but “womaning” is not. Even so, agreeing that parenting should be understood as a mainly social relationship should not stop us insisting that facts about biological kinship rightly retain great meaning for people.

The fertility sector seems to be in bad faith about this point, indirectly acknowledging the importance of biological ties when it comes to regulating information about donors, while continuing to try to break humans up for their reproductive parts wherever there’s adult demand for it. In March, for instance, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission recommended that a surrogate mother — including one who has contributed her own egg to her own pregnancy — should no longer automatically count as the resultant baby’s legal mother. It also suggested that she be given reduced time after birth to change her mind.

Yet at the very same time, it was proposed that a new “Surrogacy Register” be built, in order “to add greater transparency and give children born through surrogacy the opportunity to trace their origins when they are older”. In this, the Law Commissions follow a general trend in the modern-day fertility industry: make it easier for a newborn to have no meaningful relationship at all with her biological family while still insisting that one day she must be able to know who they are and where they live.

But uncomfortable as it may be for some to admit, the strong desires of many donor-conceived children to get information about genetic parents cannot be surgically detached from their emotional wish to have a meaningful relationship with biological family members that goes well beyond the bare registering of names and addresses. By the time a donor-conceived person gets information about her genetic background, a real relationship may be impossible for several reasons — but that doesn’t make its absence any the less a source of sadness for many. The psychotherapeutic literature contains much reflection about how a therapist might work with a client in order to mitigate such a great personal loss.

No doubt such an experience is not the case for everybody — but still, it is for many. And it’s also possible that restricted amounts of information about a donor’s identity may feel worse for some people than nothing at all. Scrolling through a Facebook photo album of happy strangers who happen to be your own biological family appears a potentially desolate and alienating prospect, to say the least.

Recognition of the value of real connection with your genetic family is also implicit in several responses to the HFEA’s public consultation on donor anonymity, which notes that information about half-siblings is often just as longed for by a donor-conceived person as information about a missing biological parent. Equally, if there were no widespread desire for a relationship in the first place, it would be hard to understand why fertility clinics encourage donors to write a “goodwill message” to give to “any potential children” when they are of an age to receive it.

To take such ordinary and familiar human longings seriously would force us to confront why society is increasingly signing off on the production of infants — from scratch, as it were — in ways designed to cut them off from future meaningful connection to their biological roots. We might even have to push back collectively against flashy lobbying groups who, with the help of heartrending stories about adult infertility, present reproduction via someone else’s genetic material as a right, and who apparently could not care less about the finer details of what this might mean for the emotional lives of children afterwards. But since we can’t apparently do any of this with much conviction, it will be easier for many to carry on pretending that who you come from, exactly, doesn’t matter — even as we make new laws insisting that you must always be allowed to find out.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Leejon 0
Leejon 0
8 months ago

I have a friend who was adopted from birth, he was told this in his teens. When I asked if he was ever tempted to contact his biological family he said, I love my parents and they love me, why would I want to spoil that? A level of ‘grown up’ that produced not a small amount of envy.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
8 months ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

Your friend has a pragmatic attitude that reflects a mutual love that is not always present for adoptees. Yet I don’t think the widespread yearning to know which two (or four, eight, sixteen, etc.) humans you were “derived from” is only immature or counterproductive. Risky, yes, as Dr. Stock outlines well. For one thing, there is medical value in knowing who one’s biological parents are.

Last edited 8 months ago by AJ Mac
e b
e b
8 months ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

there is distaste for ever defining any aspect of family in terms of biological connection, for fear of hurting those orphans, adoptees, or donor-conceived people who don’t know much about theirs” .
Yes, as an adoptee this distaste is unhelpful, contributing to a conspiracy of silence where you can feel you’re not supposed to care that you don’t know who your bio parents are. A “good” adoptee (and probably a good donor conceived person) knows that they are supposed to go along with the official script that does not hurt their adoptive or commissioning parents, and it can certainly feel too dangerous to risk losing the love of the non bio parents who are there every day and physically care for you. And no one wants to be told they’re ungrateful or selfish or hurting their parents for wanting to know where they came from either.

Sometimes adopties wait until their adoptive parents are dead before they will admit they are curious and need to know where they came from, so I’m usually a bit sceptical when adopted people tell me they’re not interested in knowing bio origins, not least because I was one of those people too until I got to my 30s – and I know people who didn’t get to the point where they could admit what they really felt until their 60s or 70s. It’s probably a bit similar for donor conceived?
I’ve been through that alienating experience of looking at Facebook photos of all my biological relatives who do not know I exist. They don’t know I exist because it’s too painful for my first mother to admit to them that I exist. This is one of the many fruits of the trauma of separating a mother and child and concealing their identities and whereabouts from each other for 18 years. Because I assumed my mother didn’t want me or care about me I didn’t dare look For Her until I was in my 30s. actually it turned out She had been Heartbroken by my loss but also was far too traumatised and unsupported to be able to begin to do the repair work necessary for me to be back in her life.
I’m very concerned about the long-term emotional impact on children who have yet to grow up to tell their tale, who are donor conceived, particularly from surrogacy, as this doesn’t sound very different from traditional style adoption. Many of us adoptees from the so-called baby scoop era of adoption In the 60s and 70s, who are now in our 40s and fifties are only just beginning to be able to reckon with the emotional impact that this lifelong trauma has wreaked on our self-worth, our ability to form relationships, to love, to trust and to feel that the world is a safe place.
I really appreciate Kathleen writing this article and if anyone is interested in understanding more about the psychological impact on children who are adopted but also to inquire into what can be learned about the likely long term impacts on children conceived via assisted reproductive technology, I highly recommend a book called “the primal wound” by Nancy Verrier which includes a chapter on surrogacy.
Apologies for the random capitals – they are due to trying to write this via voice recognition.

CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
7 months ago
Reply to  e b

Thanks for valuable contribution. I only found out, decades later, that a cousin of mine had a child at 16 and her ‘respectable’ parents had it magicked away, by sending her away and keeping it all secret. I think the main effect was how the secrets and lies held in the family did not lead to happiness instead they all suffered without knowing the cause. I always wondered why they all seemed to lead such tragic lives when they appeared reasonably privileged.
At that time there was no welfare support for single mothers. They had no choice. The pill was not even allowed to single women, only the very rich had abortions paid for them. People soon forget how oppressive life was for females then. I’m glad you found your birth mother, as a woman and mother I just know there wouldn’t have been a day she ever forgot. This is what is so worrying about what’s happening now with surrogacy. Again people thinking that rational and financial solutions will compensate for deep experiences and feelings placed there by nature doing its best for offspring to survive. I think surrogacy is theft not even well compensated. Far better to adopt and be open and heal lives not break them.

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

It seems like the “perils of home DNA tests” lie mainly on the wife’s side of the equation, i.e. in being revealed as perpetrating a massive deception and fraud against the husband.
It also seems like something the husband would like to know, and sooner rather than later.

Last edited 8 months ago by William Shaw
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

Produced envy? Why not respect?

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

It seemed unnecessary, I do not have friends I do not respect.

R M
R M
8 months ago

As far as I know Plato was the earliest recorded philosopher who, dissatisfied with the failure of contemporary society to adhere to his high personal standards, advocated that children should be removed from their biological parents and raised by the state. In order that perfect citizens might be created. In Plato’s mind nurture not only beat nature, but it is crucial to the proper functioning of society that it did.
Variations on this theme have recurred throughout history and across all parts of the political horseshoe: the Nazi Lebensborn, the Soviet Union’s Little Enemies, the Sent Down Youth of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and so on. Sooner or later it always seems to occur to those who want to remake society to their own preferences that the biological bond between parents and children must be denied, compromised, or broken.
In the long peace of the post-WW2 West, this question manifested largely as the well-worn nature vs nurture debate. Until the Berlin Wall came down the political dividing lines were relatively clear. The political Left tended to prioritise nurture as an explanation. In this they drew on Marxist ideas about the primacy of relationship to the means of production (what he called “class”) in determining human potential. If what matters most in deciding who you are is your relationship to the means of production, then that can be changed almost infinitely by sufficiently judicious application of the mechanisms of the state, especially education of children.
On the other hand, the political right, in philosophical retreat from the murderous consequences of believing too much in the importance of genetics and biology, tended to favour nature under the guise of traditionalism or conservativism as the primary means of explaining who we are and what we are capable of. But without being too pushy about it because we’d seen where that can lead.
Then the Wall came down and it got a lot more complicated, especially for the political left who – whether they accepted the Marxist basis of their politics or not – found their philosophical foundations crumbling underneath them. What has largely emerged from the left in response are a bunch of philosophically schizophrenic ways of looking at the world like identity politics and intersectionality which allow them to pick and mix whatever suits the argument they want to make:
An example: biological sex is unimportant compared to societal expectations and artefacts in determining whether you are a man or a woman (so nurture trumps nature). But at the same time a child knows their true gendered soul even before they have words to express it (now nature trumps nurture). But you can self-identify into being whatever gender you like – or none – at any time anyway and everyone has to affirm it as fact (back to nurture again).
However: you cannot self-identify into being a different ethnic group, especially one less privileged than your own, because that is a biological fact written in genetic manifestations like skin colour etc (nature winning big over nurture here).
How people on the political left cope with the levels of cognitive dissonance required to believe all these contradictory things is beyond my understanding. I can only assume its down to lots of practice of holding incompatible convictions.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Quite simple – the ‘left’ views you have outlined are held by a minority of cranky but loud voices. I hold no such view but am proudly left. (At least by the standards of this wonderful publication!)

Last edited 8 months ago by Martin Butler
Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Quite right! Did you come across Pamela Paul’s excellent Op-Ed in the NYT – “Progressives aren’t Liberal”? Reassuring to read the slew of comments in support from those in the ‘Liberal Classic’ brand, as Bill Maher phrases it (she also had a good showing on Real Time this week).

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

So glad this subject is coming up for discussion as I’ve expressed, here, how uncomfortable I am with the way being “left” has been characterized. I’ve thought that perhaps a third label should be used since “left” doesn’t fit many of us anymore.

Dominic A
Dominic A
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Indeed – though to be fair, I’d guess many on the right feel the same way. All part of the ‘news as entertainment business’, politics as sport culture.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Sp*stic perhaps?

R M
R M
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

That’s true but I’m talking about broad trends in political philosophy here, not tallying exact numbers.

And I might also point out that many of those on the left who, like you, don’t hold such views are too fearful or careerist to call out those cranky voices among their peers demanding that everyone affirm monstrous, divisive nonsense like “white people invented slavery”.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Of course, all English children should be removed from their parents and raised by Camila Batmanghelidjh.

R M
R M
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Speaking as a parent of two stroppy teenagers, I could do with the break if she can have them this weekend?

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Ahhh, plenty of room for frolicking young ‘uns in the ample folds of that suppression order.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  R M

Funny! Thanks for the chuckle.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

“How people on the political left cope with the levels of cognitive dissonance required to believe all these contradictory things is beyond my understanding”
Simple it is down to being thick and being driven by a fear of being caught holding a low status opinion

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago

See, there you go being snotty about being “left”. Well, I’m not “right” so I’m offended. So what other label shall I use?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Stupid will do

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

But isn’t your sex also a biological fact written into every cell in your body? How else do archeologists know the sex of remains found thousands of years later?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Plato was WRONG, nature beats nurture every time, as one might logically expect.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago

Nah. Check out twins separated at birth, studies. But I’d say 50/50.

Last edited 7 months ago by Clare Knight
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’ll repeat my sincere little quip: The answer to is it Nature or Nurture? is clearly “yes”.
Valid arguments can be made in either direction but they are not conclusive and most fairminded observers would admit that the ratio varies between individuals–even full siblings, if not identical twins–and between specific aspects of the whole person.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Yeh, the gender ideology isn’t simply blank slatist, because at times they are trying to make essentialist claims, maybe in imitation of the gay rights movement, where the genetic factor in sexuality became a decisive victory for the movement…
E.g. they say things like ‘trans people have always existed’, pointing out a number of previous societies with separate castes or roles for non-gender conforming people or intersex people — like the hijira in Pakistan, or two-spirit people — which are really just examples of the fluidity of culture, but which they turn into an essentialist political claim.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

Very good point about “cognitive dissonance” on the political left. The question “what is a woman?” brings that to the fore, flummoxing many who try to answer it.

CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
8 months ago

The alarm bells ring with the increase of surrogacy. The increasing wants of men to have babies of their own made socially acceptable and possible using female bodies as a mere vessels, ignoring the massive physical, emotional, psychological bond necessarily built into human maternity. It cannot be overridden by money offered to those without any, that is so demeaning. But so familiar.

The change in the law mentioned so the mother has less right, has less time to change her mind is wrong for the mother. Is wrong for the child. It’s like another level of prostitution which this time doesn’t only affect the woman but also her child. Any such arrangement should be openly consensual for life and the rights and needs of all given legal weight. Not just for the rich, and certainly not so that males can unrealistically think they can appropriate birth rights for themselves.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
8 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

Yes I often wonder what people like Elton John and his partner do regarding the biological mothers of their children, whether his kids have contact with the mother etc.

Guy Pigache
Guy Pigache
8 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

There are women who need surrogacy as well. Not just men.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Guy Pigache

True.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  CF Hankinson

Are the surrogates forced into this arrangement? Didn’t think so.

e b
e b
8 months ago

Well their babies certainly are! And they will grow up and have to live out the lifelong consequences of it!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
8 months ago
Reply to  e b

At least they weren’t aborted, like tens of millions of others.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

A million unwanted children. Aren’t there enough already? And abortion is none of your business.

Last edited 7 months ago by Clare Knight
Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Exactly zero abortion “rights” advocates – the people who say infanticide is an unquestionable right all women have – would say that men shouldn’t have to support children they never wanted.
But then again, we’re speaking of “gender equality,” which must always answer the question “is this good for women” in the affirmative.
Abortion is none of our business, apparently, because only men can be forced into parenthood.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago

If I was found to have a high proportion of Neanderthal DNA I doubt my spouse would be annoyed. On the contrary, I suspect she would be delighted to have her suspicions confirmed.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
8 months ago

Own your Neanderthal DNA with pride; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
8 months ago

As always a beautifully written article by the Prof. However I have to confess, shallow human being that I am, the stand out for me was that 38% of French women are unfaithful!

The minxes.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

A far smaller percentage than French males, of whom it’s almost “expected”.

Guy Pigache
Guy Pigache
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The men (and women) have find somebody to be unfaithful with. Unless some very busy Inguess the percentages of each sex should be similar

David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  Guy Pigache

Perhaps women who are unfaithful, are so with multiple men – the percentages don’t have to match.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Guy Pigache

Exactly. I always say that. However, this is about bringing babies into the liaison.

David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I know this is the popular image – do you have actual figures?

N Satori
N Satori
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Read more closely. That 38% is those who actually admit to being unfaithful!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
8 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Yes. That’s surely well below that actual, shocking tally.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
8 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Is it? My guess is that it’s high.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Provided the poll is anonymous I think men would be far likelier than women to lie and say they had cheated, though still more likely to lie and say they hadn’t when they did. But maybe it varies by nation.
*Or maybe you’re just trolling my needless reply. If so: Enjoy your day, Dangerman.

Last edited 7 months ago by AJ Mac
David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Not to mention that the French state seems to be colluding with these women in deluding their husbands over the actual parentage of their children!

There’s a clear message to men too. If you want to have sex without the risk of child support – best sleep with other men’s wives rather than single women!

Ali W
Ali W
8 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

They’re protecting their proud cultural heritage of permissive sexual mores!

David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

A quick look at the source shows that this figure has increased from 10% over the last 50 years. That’s a huge change. No wonder divorce is increasing. Similar change in the U.K.?

Ali W
Ali W
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I recall reading about a French phrase (cinq a sept) which alludes to the timeframe for visiting a lover before returning home to your family. I guess it’s quite widespread to have a phrase coined for the time of day you dedicate to your affair. I found it surprising as well. I’m American and I guess most of my peers don’t have the sexual motivation for multiple partners.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I thought is that all!! Perhaps the others just didn’t confess.

Last edited 7 months ago by Clare Knight
anthony henderson
anthony henderson
8 months ago

I’ve had a DNA test and done a lot of family tree research (all English and Scottish), I’ve made many interesting discoveries including unknown close family relatives, what is surprising though is how little ‘white privilege’ I found.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago

What does that mean?

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago

One of the more revealing outcomes of DNA testing is the discovery by a not insignificant percentage of fathers that they have been deceived by their wives into investing emotional and financially resources into raising another man’s child. In almost all instances the wife is fully aware of what she’s doing and concealing the act in order to continue receiving his financial support.  Estimates of this deceit vary between 5 and 15 percent depending on country and ethnicity.
Some countries, France is given as one example, believe continued deception and theft of resources is preferable to the truth being revealed. 
All babies should be DNA tested at birth.  If the husband is not the father his name should not appear on the birth certificate and he should be legally absolved of providing child support. 

Last edited 8 months ago by William Shaw
David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

All babies should be DNA tested at birth.

On principle I agree, though it’s probably going to break up a lot of families. Should he not also be allowed to sue his wife for attempted fraud? The knowledge would be hard to live with, the child is likely to be a constant reminder – it’s probably best for the couple to divorce. But it then seems unfair if the husband is not compensated in some way for what he has suffered at his wife’s hands.

The idea that a man should dedicate his life, his time, his hopes and his love to a child that is not his, while deliberately being kept in the dark, strikes me as appalling – especially as we have the technology which could provide him with the truth.

Last edited 8 months ago by David Morley
William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I don’t know if it’s legally possible but after divorce the man should be able to sue his ex wife for fraud and seek financial compensation for however many years he was deceived into feeding and clothing another man’s child.
It seems like this should be possible in any just society.

Last edited 8 months ago by William Shaw
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

On Relative Justice if fathers find out that they’ve been raising another man’s child, but have bonded with the child since birth they don’t reject the child, they want to continue to be the father. There seem to be different values in black families and closer bonds than middle-class white families. When I left home at 17 to live in London my mother’s parting words were “If you get pregnant don’t come home”. She meant it.

David Morley
David Morley
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I actually think this is how most men would feel. And of course the child is not to blame for the mothers actions.

But this just makes the mothers deception all the worse. Exploiting people may always be wrong: exploiting good people by means of their good feelings, their trust, their loyalty and their love is far worse.

David Morley
David Morley
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Presumably, in some cases, this is because the mother knows full well that she will be better off duping a good man into thinking he is the father – rather than taking her chances with the bad man who actually is!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

I watch a court TV show called Relative Justice which consists mostly of black families getting DNA tests to prove who their father is. I was amazed at how very common it is for back kids not to know their fathers and crave to do so. The deep emotional investment in the loss and gain is very powerful. There is joy and grief on full display on the show.

N Satori
N Satori
8 months ago

My half-sister (different and unknown father from the rest of us siblings) took a home DNA test. Little did she suspect that other offspring of the same dad would also be taking that test. When they discovered the link they were curious and eager to contact her. For better or worse she gained new brothers and sisters. Had those others not taken the DNA test themselves this would not have happened. Just blind chance.
I have taken a 23andMe test myself but I have chosen to keep the results private – they do give you that option.

Last edited 8 months ago by N Satori
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

What do you mean by ‘private’? That they’re not published online?

N Satori
N Satori
8 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Not made available to others who have submitted their own DNA for testing. Not everybody who takes a DNA test is interested in discovering long lost family. My own reason was to find if the test would reveal any particular health vulnerabilities. It should be noted that the research is an ongoing process – as 23andMe learn more about your DNA group they post updates. So far, in my case, nothing devastating or particularly exciting.

Ali W
Ali W
8 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You can make yourself “discoverable” by relatives on the website. I get updates regularly saying, “you have new DNA relatives”. Most of them are 3rd cousins or further, and I don’t recognize the names or pictures, although my first cousin did it, and she immediately was classified as my first cousin (without any action by either of us), due to the high amount of DNA we shared.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

I really don’t want those sixteen (half?) Chinese kids to know.

I will never do that again, and all because the girl in the clinic said I had ‘nice eyes’.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Another good-and-cheeky post, sir! Bravo.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

I don’t get it.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

You don’t need to. But if you ever see a Eurasian-looking kid with eyes like Nicole Kidman, warn me.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago

“For a long time now, academics in the humanities have been churning out arguments to undermine the importance of bloodlines”
And they wonder why they have no credibility.
Also it is wrong to describe it as intellectual pressure. There is nothing intellectual about it and it gives them too much credibility

Last edited 8 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

A fascinating article by KS, and i always look forward to Fridays, being the day they usually drop. It’s clear that whilst modern communications and technology have greatly facilitated the means for non-standard reproduction, that the ancient familial ties of genetics simply won’t change our emotional framework. One would seriously have to question the motivations or psychological dissonance of those who hope it might, or try to persuade through “post-structural” sophistry that it’s less important than its been considered throughout human history.

There will likely be Unherd subscribers who wish to comment due to having “skin in the game” as the saying goes, but which is particularly apt here. (I may be one of them.)

KS uses her usual forensic means of dissecting the apparent ambivalence in attitudes by regulatory bodies regarding both donors and recipients. There may well be those who’d argue against the wisdom of it all. If so, they should remember that children have always been raised by fathers who weren’t their biological father, and some women have always been inclined to choose to conceive through someone other than their husband or partner. Physical attraction happens for a reason, but it’s in great part the fear of men that their femsle partner may conceive by another that perhaps results in the oft-cited controlling behaviour of males.

At least with sperm and egg/womb donation, this is being done up front (no pun intended).

One thing i’d slightly disagree with in the analysis. KS argues that the “goodwill message” should be seen as a means of facilitating future contact by a child wishing to find their biological parent. I’d say it’s rather more intended to provide reassurance, including where a child chooses not to trace their parent. This is in addition to helping the recipient make the right choice of course, but also since the premature death of the donor could preclude any future contact.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
8 months ago

Ancestry DNA testing is just a bit of self-regarding fun, in my opinion. After all, what are you going to do once you learn you are x% this or y% that? You are who you are right now; it’s all “priced-in” as they say in finance. But I must admit, it was quite amusing to learn from a DNA test that my grandmother’s tall tale of having a Norwegian sailor ancestor who jumped ship in a UK port about 200 years ago, turned out to be highly likely.

Last edited 8 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago

There you go, you have a tale to tell now. Makes you more interesting, doesn’t it?

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
8 months ago

It is a funny old world we live in with declining fertility rates amongst the richer countries but not the poorer and what seems to be an assault from every direction on the “nuclear family” – how disgustingly hetero normative that is.
What we can’t do is try to sit in moral judgement over who can have children through artificial means and who can’t. All we can do is insist all parties go into it with their eyes open about all the potential consequences and that the offspring get properly supported.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

And how do you do that? Can you insist that all children everywhere are properly cared for, particularly when the right is against abortion?

David Morley
David Morley
8 months ago

Odd isn’t it that while biology has discovered the fundamental role that genetic connection plays in eg. Altruism (both in humans and animals), other areas of knowledge have gone wandering off in the opposite direction – making as little of such connection as possible.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
8 months ago

Most people seeking sperm or egg donation ask for a donor of the same race. They don’t do this only because they may be racist. They do it because they want to pretend that the sperm or egg is/are their own. The removal of anonymity from donors blows this pretence apart.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
7 months ago

Another excellent, thought provoking piece from Unherd’s outstanding contributor.

Gina B
Gina B
7 months ago

I thought the DNA testing was just a fun thing until I purchased a discount-on-two DNA testing kit for a friend who was interested and myself. Nice birthday present I thought.
Well, the friend discovered her father was not her actual father and her siblings were her half-siblings. Both her parents are dead so she could not find out any more about those secrets as her mother told no-one. Very traumatic for her. And I felt responsible.
I also discovered a very high level of Neanderthal DNA – but since I don’t look like a Neanderthal and don’t even know what it means or what difference it would make it does not bother me at all.
And then my results came back as 95% British and Irish – and 5% Pashtun. I was quite excited about my little bit of exotic DNA – until I realized that is not me being a little bit Pashtun but rather an awful lot of people in Afghanistan having some British DNA. Due to a British Empire war in Afghanistan 200 or so years ago or something.
Now I can’t decide whether I am the ultimate oppressed minority due to my different species ancestors being literally wiped off the face of the earth – or the ultimate colonial oppressor due to my British ancestors invading Afghanistan!
Seriously of course neither of these things are really important and do not affect me in the slightest – but the question of who your biological parents are is vitally important. Discovering something other than what you took for granted can be psychologically devastating.

William Brand
William Brand
8 months ago

The husband of a wife’s b*****d assumes a financial burden that should be carried by another. A wise man preforms a DNA test on every child that he is expected to support and if he is not the father should launch a paternity suit against the lover of his wife. The grandfather of a b*****d should do likewise. No man should be expected to assume another’s genetic debts. With DNA testing distant paternal relatives can be established as having DNA in common with a child. They can be billed in proportion to the genes carried. Yes, the identical twin of a wife’s lover is fully as responsible for child support as is his brother. If he gets stuck with child support, he can sue his brother.

Last edited 8 months ago by William Brand
Bret Larson
Bret Larson
7 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

That’s fair for the husband and the “other” but what about for the child? How does such accounting impact them?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
7 months ago

One would think it important to know about sperm donors so you don’t marry your brother. I’ve seen documentaries of the not-uncommon, despicable practice of fertility clinic doctors using their own sperm multiple times to create babies, without the knowledge of the parents.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
8 months ago

Any plant you grow in your garden can be defined as a weed or as a signature piece. It just comes down to the plants near it and how they present as a whole assembly. I’m keen on the ones that attract bees insects and other wildlife.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
7 months ago

One helpful way to think about ‘nature/nurture’ is to think about a field.
It’s clearly silly to ask ‘which is more important, the length or the width?’ if you are wanting to know the area.
If we think of ‘nature’ as the fixed ‘width’ and nurture as the variable ‘length’,then the resulting ‘personality’ is the result of the combination.

Last edited 7 months ago by Mike Bell