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DNA testing in China: eroding wedlock?
2005-01-26 01:20:57 Xinhua English

By Zhou Yan

BEIJING, Jan. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- In the world of DNA testing, a casual remark about "a handsome child of a homely father" may comeas a bad omen in a happy marriage. Noticeable differences between children and their parents, particularly their fathers, sometimes cause suspicion that can escalate into arguments, v
iolence or divorce.

For uncertain fathers, a DNA test is a fair and final judge.

When friends at a dinner party said Mr. Xu's four-year-old daughter had large eyes and long legs so different from himself, Xu took the girl to a DNA test. He found out that she actually wasn't his.

The furious Xu immediately turned the mother and child out of the house, but repented when his wife filed for a divorce.

"I can never forgive myself for what I did," said Xu. "My ex-wife never allowed me to see the child again, but I dream of her almost every night, still calling out 'papa' to me."

In November, 2004, former Chinese football star Gao Feng, who had just had a baby boy with pop diva Na Ying, was determined by DNA testing to be the biological father of a three-year-old boy byanother woman. The event aroused widespread attention from Chinesemedia and made DNA a catch phrase for that year.

"While some people turn to DNA testing to defend their own legitimate rights, many others simply do so out of mistrust towardtheir spouses," said Prof. Liao Shixiu, head of the genetic institute of the People's Hospital in Henan Province, central China.

During the past year, Liao's institute received an average of two applications a day for DNA testing to authenticate father-child relations.

"The number can be up to eight or 10 on Saturdays and Sundays,"she said.

According to Prof. Liao, most of the applicants are introvertedand a bit paranoid.

"In most cases the fathers are being too skeptical -- at least 70 percent of our test results are positive," she said. "Sometimeswe advise them to go for psychological counseling."

The geneticist admitted the increasing occurrence of premaritalsex and extramarital affairs in China has challenged traditional values and triggered a trust crisis in many families.

"But authentication of a biological relation is a two-edged sword: women and children are more often the victims of such mistrust and it does men no good either when a family is broken."

DNA can be taken from cells in blood, hair, tissue, semen or amniotic fluid and ensures 99.99 percent accuracy.

Liao's institute has received about 3,500 families since it launched DNA testing services in 1998. The average cost for a testis about 2,800 yuan (337 US dollars) and the youngest child suspected by his father to be out of wedlock was a fetus only 50 days old, said Prof. Liao.

Yet DNA tests have also helped kidnapped children find their biological parents and remedied mistakes made by midwives who mismatched babies born in the same delivery room.

In 2000, police authorities in Beijing used DNA testing for thefirst time to help a local couple find their three-year-old son who was kidnapped shortly after birth. The same technology has reunited at least 80 kidnapped children with their parents in the city's fight against child abduction over the past five years.

Meanwhile, public security departments of large Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai have established DNA data banks of their most wanted suspects to facilitate manhunts.

"High technologies should benefit the people. Likewise, DNA testing should help those in need find ancestral roots and reunitebroken families, rather than to escalate suspicion and misunderstanding to breakups," said Dr. Tang Hui, a DNA specialistwith the Beijing Public Security Bureau.

Tang's organization is the first in China to pass the ISO/IEC17025 international standards for DNA testing. Last year, it used DNA technology to help an old man from the Republic of Korea find his half brother in China, even though the two never met.

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