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Discovery of unexpected paternity after direct-to-consumer DNA testing and its impact on identity
Michele Grethel,Jennifer Lewis,Rob Freeman,Courtney Stone
05 August 2022 https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12752

In this study, we describe the experiences of individuals who received direct-to-consumer DNA test results indicating unexpected parentage.

The availability of recreational DNA testing has left individuals navigating unexpected results with limited resources. Little is known about the emotional impact of learning about unexpected paternity.

This qualitative study used inductive thematic analysis of in-depth interviews with adults (n = 27; age 40–70 years) who received direct-to-consumer DNA test results revealing unexpected biological paternity.

Identity transformation occurred while integrating DNA results. Themes included (a) initial discovery marked by shock, fear, crisis, and loss of genetic relatedness; (b) identity exploration encompassing anxiety, emotional challenges, determination to conduct genealogical research, and confronting family; (c) identity reconstruction due to new familial connections and reconciliation of personal and familial history; and (d) synthesis of and shift in worldview, impacting trust in kinship.

Identity transformation after unexpected DNA results is often accompanied by intense change in personal and community identity and a shift in identity related to race, ethnicity, religion, family status, belonging, or other facets of one's self. Temporal trauma, grief, and loss are common outcomes. Isolation, shame, and a lack of emotional support are prevalent.

This research elucidates emotional processes related to learning unexpected DNA results.

The number of people who have had their DNA analyzed with direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests more than doubled during 2017 and now exceeds 30 million globally (Bobkowski et al., 2020). In the context of genetics, it is now possible to delineate biological family relationships, discover one's “authentic” race and ethnicity, and unintentionally reveal family secrets, such as marital affairs and donor-conceived births. Using information from genetic and behavioral studies, Bellis et al. (2005) estimated that 0.8% to 30% of test recipients discover being biologically fathered by someone unexpected. A literature review found little data on nonpaternity rates; when they were reported, they were not the primary focus of the paper and lacked sufficient detail (Greeff & Erasmus, 2015). Further, extant research reports inconsistent rates and estimates of nonpaternity events or misattributed paternity findings. The most commonly cited figure in the media is 10% (Gilding, 2005).

Research on DTC genetic testing largely addresses logistics, including the history of DNA testing and the call for greater U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, privacy implications for participants and nonconsenting family members (e.g., anonymous sperm donors), describing motivations of consumers who use testing (e.g., health, hobby, insight into identity), and implications for medical providers interacting with patients who have received DTC genetic testing results (Allyse et al., 2018; Gill et al., 2018; Larmuseau, 2018; Strong et al., 2019). Most research conducted on the effects of DTC genetic testing results have focused primarily on health markers, such as cancer genes and chronic illness (Mahon, 2018; Middleton et al., 2017; Thrush & McCaffrey, 2010). Despite calls for genetic and mental health counselors to provide education and support for test recipients, there remains an absence of research to guide clinical practice (Kirkpatrick & Rashkin, 2017; Larmauseau, 2018; Mahon, 2018; Roberts & Ostergren, 2013).

The growth in consumers accessing genetic DTC testing inevitably will result in greater numbers of individuals accidentally learning about unexpected biological paternity. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the emotions that one endures when receiving DTC DNA results of unexpected biological paternity. The notion that the father who raised an individual or was identified as their biological parent is suddenly biologically unrelated may, understandably, cause a cacophony of emotions. Clinicians need this information to support individuals effectively as they experience the emotions associated with this stressful experience.


© 2007 Молекулярная Генеалогия (МолГен)

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