Child should have right to know genetic information
March 6, 2007
BY MURRAY DAVIS
It is frustrating when our laws or proceedings in the judicial system eschew common sense, medical science and society. An important case in point is Minor J, the Michigan youth seeking the identity of his birth father in order to know his genetic medical history and any predispositions to diseases.
Such expectations are already standard practice for sperm or egg donors, and Michigan's full disclosure adoption law requires that the medical histories of birth parents accompany the adopted child on to his or her new life.
However, through a technicality, Minor J's rights have fallen through some courtroom cracks.
Diane J and Mr. J were married in 1982. They divorced in 1995. Minor J was born in 1989. The divorce agreement called for joint custody, with Mr. J paying child support. In 2004, Mr. J began to doubt that the now 17-year-old boy was his biological child, a suspicion confirmed by two separate DNA tests. Minor J asked his mother for the identity of his father. She gave another name, but three months later another DNA test determined that this man, Mr. X, was also not the biological father.
Diane J refuses to provide any other names and, despite these DNA results, still ridiculously asserts that Mr. J is the biological father.
Minor J, represented pro bono by nationally known family law attorney Henry Baskin of Birmingham, has filed suit against his mother. The case is now before the Michigan Court of Appeals after a Macomb County circuit judge ruled that Minor J had no legal standing to bring the suit. Under antiquated Michigan law, Minor J is a legitimate child, as Mr. J and Diane J were married at the time of his conception and birth. And, it was ruled, a legitimate child cannot ask the courts to name another man as his father.
Although this case has revealed marital paternity fraud, it is not a paternity establishment case in the traditional sense. No inheritance is at stake. Child support payments are no longer an issue. But something more valuable is: information, which could help Minor J or his offspring practice preventive medicine and avoid future disease.
This case is being watched around the country. Baskin -- who is only asking for the genetic information, not even a name -- has the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health on his side. With good reason. In addition to the Michigan adoption law and conception donor practices already cited, the entire thrust of the modern health care era has been to establish and cultivate the informed patient. Most major hospitals and HMOs include access to and accuracy of medical information as part of their Code of Conduct or Patient Rights and Responsibilities policy.
Unfortunately, many of our laws are based on English common law, drafted well before the advent of modern-day medicine, which relies on accurate medical histories and, increasingly, genetic histories and sophisticated diagnostic technologies.
Does a child have equal protection under the law -- a right to know the medical history of both biological parents to help ensure a healthy lifestyle? It should go without saying.
Fortunately, Baskin has promised that he will not give up on Minor J's case.
When Baskin succeeds, our children and society will both be healthier for it.