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The Down Side Of DNA Testing

Sometimes secrets buried in the genes need to remain undisturbed

A reader writes:

I enjoyed your post about DNA testing–but this sort of thing does have a dark side to it. I think others in the comments section referred to the perpetual “ownership” of your DNA profile by the company and risks related to getting healthcare coverage. Our family experienced a completely different issue.

These tests are being used by adults who were adopted to identify and locate their birth parents–particularly their birth mothers. There is a member of my family who has always been quite private (not revealing her age for example) and left home as a teenager. She was mortified when it was revealed through paperwork needed to help her move closer to family in her old age that her only child was conceived 6 months prior to her first marriage. Many tears.

About a year later, family members were contacted by an individual who had performed a DNA test and was given actual family names and a location based on that DNA profile and a subscription to Ancestry.com. Turns out my family member was raped by a relative as a young girl, was sent away, put the baby up for adoption with anonymous records and specific orders not to reopen the file, and left home to make her way in the world. The baby was adopted into a functional and loving family–yet this individual continued to search for his/her birth parents despite knowing the records had been intentionally sealed. Enter for-profit DNA testing.

This person sent several emails to the younger generation of the family and the whole thing blew up. The elderly birth mother has since spiraled into a massive depression, brothers and sisters are arguing about whose “rights” are more important–birth parents or adoptee–and folks are lawyering up to ensure inheritance issues don’t arise. Google “birth mother doesn’t want to meet” to get a glimpse of how volatile these emotions can be on both sides.

Every now and then there is a feel-good story in the newspaper about a birth mother being reunited with a child they put up for adoption. I always wonder how many untold stories there are that didn’t end quite so well. Lesson learned though for the current generation: between DNA testing, social media, and Google absolutely no adoption is private anymore. Soon I suspect no “unknown” paternity will be private either.

Perhaps this is for the best overall. But I know for one person DNA testing “for fun” by her family members caused great anguish in her last few years on earth.



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