As a licensed private investigator and genetic genealogist, who uses DNA information on sites such as www.23andme.com and www.ancestry.com to perform post adoption searches, heir searches, missing person searches, and skip tracing, I know the potential that these sites have for uncovering information that you may not have been looking for. It may also uncover the identity of someone that didn’t think they would or could be identified.
While assisted reproduction produces children via a sperm or egg donation, it is far from clear how many children are conceived this way each year. Some estimate though, that this number could be anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 annually in the United States alone. In recent years, cases have hit the headlines where a donor unknowingly has hundreds of children, with a reported case of one donor fathering up to 150 offspring. Other cases have come up where a donor wasn’t properly tested for various genetic diseases. Most of the time this is due to confidentiality agreements, where donors could opt never to be contacted. Other agreements limited contact to after the age of 18.
In this new age of DNA testing, with the ease and relatively low price to have testing done, can a donor truly remain anonymous? Should they remain anonymous? What role does the donation facility have to let potential donors know that it is getting easier than ever to be found, even if they don’t test, but a relative does? And, what impact does this have on someone testing with one of these companies who was never told that the person who raised them was not their biological mother or father?
As the databases grow, the chances that a user might find a close genetic relative they didn’t know they had, also grows. But none of the genetic testing companies were designed to produce that result.
On the 23andMe website, the company has the following disclaimer:
“Looking at your genetic data might uncover information that some people find surprising. This information can be relatively benign. At other times, the information you learn can have profound implications for both you and your family. 23andMe cannot provide you with an exhaustive list of all the unexpected things you might uncover during your genetic exploration …”
And goes on further to say, “In a similar way, genetic information can also reveal that someone you thought you were related to is not your biological relative. This happens most frequently in the case of paternity, where someone learns that their biological parent is not who they thought it was.”
In 2005 researchers discovered that cases of paternity discrepancy, where a child is identified as being biologically different than their purported mother or father, occurs between .8% to 30% in the population. (Citation Included)
So, how does this relate to the licensed private investigator? Even if a client is able to track down a donor parent or half-siblings on their own, or if they require assistance in their quest to find biological family members, I always recommend that the licensed private investigator act as an intermediary when contacting potential first family members. In the state of Arizona, I do post adoption work via the Confidential Intermediary program, through the Arizona Supreme Court. As part of my mandate, I always act as a go between when family members are found and have made this a standard practice in all potential reunion situations. This generally involves sending a letter from myself, explaining the situation, having the client write a letter to their family member, and including information about their rights to either share identifying or non-identifying (medical history) information. When donor parents or half-siblings agree to share identifying information, the rest is up to them, but most choose to get in contact right away, which I also encourage!
While it may be shocking, or a client may have known all along that they were the product of assisted reproduction, those that I have helped reconnect with their donor parents or half-siblings had very positive experiences.
Bellis MA, Hughes K, Hughes S, et al, Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2005;59:749-754.