Paternity Test Hits Drugstores Nationwide

Over-the-counter DNA test won't stand up in court, but it's said to be 99.9 percent accurate.

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It's great how you can get just about anything at the drugstore: dental floss, pantyhose—and now paternity tests.

Yes, DNA testing has come to your local pharmacy. Last week, Identigene of Houston started selling its paternity test in drugstores nationwide. Hollie and Gary Taylor are glad the company is doing so.

"I was very surprised to find it," says Hollie, who went to a Rite Aid near the couple's home in California to buy the test. She was pleased by the price—$19.99 plus a $119 lab fee, $110 less than the same test costs online, where it has been on sale since 1993. Still, she went home and scoped out the company on the Internet before she bought it. "I didn't want it to be just your generic little something off the shelf that would have all sorts of crazy results."

The Taylors were wondering whether the daughter of a woman Gary had dated nine years ago, before he got married, was his child. First the mother had told him he was the father; then she told him he wasn't. He kept paying child support, but he couldn't help but think about the uncertainty. The drugstore test is not valid to use in court because the identity of the people using it can't be verified, but it's easy to imagine using the test's results to launch a custody dispute or child support action.

It's also easy to imagine someone being tested without his or her knowledge, a possibility that has some privacy advocates worried. The Identigene test is one of dozens of DNA tests that have entered the consumer market in recent years, all of which, until now, have been sold on the Internet. "The field is largely unregulated," says Gail Javitt, law and policy director at the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "Our concern is whether consumers are getting what they think they're getting."

Paternity tests are far simpler than DNA tests used for medical purposes, like determining breast cancer risk, and they're not nearly so equivocal—Identigene promises its test is 99.9 percent accurate. And paternity tests can be used for much more than answering the "Who's Your Daddy?" question of reality-show infamy. Some people use them to find adoptive relatives. Others use paternity testing to prove valid immigration status. New tests even make it possible to determine paternity while a child is still in the womb.

For the Taylors, the fact that a paternity test is available in drugstores, right next to the Sucrets and the blood glucose monitors, was enough to get them going on something they had planned to do for a long time. On a recent visit, they took a cheek swab sample from the daughter to collect some DNA. They tested their own daughter at the same time, not because it was necessary but so that the other girl wouldn't feel like she was being singled out. "We didn't want her to feel weird or awkward in any way," says Hollie. When they got home, they also swabbed Gary's cheek and mailed in the two key samples to Identigene's lab. A week later, the results were available online: The child is his. "I was glad," says Gary. "Had [the test] been out a lot sooner, it would have saved a lot of grief."

"If anything, we're more than happy to find out that she is truly his," says Hollie Taylor. They had already introduced the girl to their children as a sister and are glad they won't have to say that's not so. "It worked out well."