Genetic Ties and the Future of the Family

A collaborative project between the Health Law and Policy Institute at the University of Louisville and The Hastings Center

Project launched in July 2001

Lead Investigators:Mark Rothstein (of the Health Law and Policy Institute at the University of Louisville), Mary Anderlik Majumder (now of Baylor College of Medicine), Thomas H. Murray, and Gregory E. Kaebnick

Funder:National Institutes of Health/National Human Genome Research Institute(1 R01 HG 02313-01)


A comprehensive assessment of the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetic paternity testing, with a special focus on the implications for children and families.


Genetic Ties and the Family (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

“Genetic Ties and the Future of the Family,” a panel at the 2003 Annual Conference of the American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities, with presentations by T.H. Murray, G. Kaebnick, M. Anderlik, and L. Knowles, October 2003, Baltimore, Md.

“Genetic Bonds and Family Law: The Challenge of DNA Parentage Testing,” a public conference cosponsored by The American Society for Law, Medicine & Ethics, March 27-28, 2003, New Orleans, La.

Scholarly articles listed below.

Key Issues

  • Genetic testing has the potential to be highly disruptive to families, with a disproportionate amount of the burden falling on children, who may find themselves cut off financially and emotionally from a person, usually a man, whom they had regarded as a parent.
  • Genetic testing to confirm or disconfirm identity can and is used for many purposes other than establishing paternity. Among these are “lineage testing” and “infidelity testing.”
  • The volume of testing for all purposes has increased dramatically in the past decade, with a growing number of private laboratories offering testing and stimulating demand.
  • Private laboratories offering genetic paternity testing are not covered by federal standards, and state regulation is haphazard and highly fragmented.
  • DNA samples can be collected and tested without the knowledge of the subject or of other parties who may be affected by the results.

Lessons and Findings

  • The law pertaining to paternity testing is fragmented and in flux (M.A. Majumder, “Disestablishment Suits: Daddy No More?” in Genetic Ties and the Family.
  • The legal presumptions that underlie the legal determination of parentage were developed under very different social and scientific circumstances and may not be well suited to the contemporary setting.
  • Parentage is not a one-dimensional phenomenon that can be settled definitively with a scientific test:
    • Parentage refers sometimes to a biological and especially to a genetic relationship, and sometimes to a psychosocial relationship in which genetic relatedness may, but need not, play an important role.
    • The legal assignment of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood may be connected to the biological and psychosocial dimensions of parenthood in various ways (J. Blustein, “Ethical Issues in DNA-based Paternity Testing,” inGenetic Ties and the Family.
  • Whereas the emergence of new, nontraditional kinds of families tends to support the psychosocial view of parenthood, public and private financial interests in assigning parental responsibilities promote the scientific view. Scientific advances lend support to both views. (M. Rothstein, “Translating Values and Interests into the Law of Parentage Determination,” inGenetic Ties and the Family.

Scholarly Articles

J.A. Parness, “Lost Paternity in the Culture of Motherhood: A Different View of Safe Haven Laws,” Valparaiso University Law Review 42 (2007), no. 1.

G.E. Kaebnick, “Natural Father: Genetic Ties, Marriage, and Fatherhood,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 13 (2004).

M.R. Anderlik, “Disestablishment Suits: What Has Science Wrought?” Journal of the Center for Families, Children & the Courts 4 (2003).

T.H. Murray and G.E. Kaebnick, “Genetic Ties and Genetic Mix-Ups,” Journal of Medical Ethics 29, no. 2 (2003).

M.R. Anderlik, “Assessing the Quality of DNA-based Parentage Testing: Findings from a Survey of Laboratories,” Jurimetrics 43 (2003).

T.H. Murray, “DNA, Nurture, and Parenthood,” Nature Reviews Genetics 4 (2003).

J.A. Parness, “Old-Fashioned Pregnancy, Newly-Fashioned Paternity,” Syracuse Law Review 53 (2003).

M.R. Anderlik and M.A. Rothstein, “DNA-based Identity Testing and the Future of the Family: A Research Agenda,” American Journal of Law & Medicine 28 (2002).

G.E. Kaebnick, “A Determined Attack on Genetic Determinism” (book review), Medical Humanities Review 15, no. 1 (2001).