POTSDAM, Germany — Biotix GmbH, a laboratory that specializes in DNA testing, is offering a Father' s Day discount for the dad who just wants to make sure his child really is his. Dad just takes a swab of saliva from the child, seals it in a test tube and sends it along with a sample of his own saliva to the lab. A few days later, the laboratory analysis will prove or disprove paternity to within a statistical certainty of 99.9 percent.
Last year, 15,000 to 20,000 paternity tests were performed in Germany, according to industry estimates. And in 1 in 5 cases, it turned out that the child had been fathered by someone else. That has led some experts to conclude that perhaps 1 in 10 German children has been fathered by someone other than his or her legal father. Paternity testing has become a kind of national entertainment in Germany, like the United States, with producers of television talk shows canvassing the country for people willing to undergo the tests and then have the results unveiled on live television. Biotix normally charges about $624 for a test. Thomas Krahn, who started the company in 1999, cheerfully admits that his Father' s Day special was a publicity gimmick designed to attract the media' s attention and boost the profile of his company, one of about 20 firms performing such tests in Germany. Krahn, 36, a research scientist, said his real interest was in developing new biotech instruments and methods of gene research. He got into the business of paternity testing to raise money for his research. "This is a niche market for us," he said. But it might not last long. New legislation proposed by German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries would make it a crime for fathers to do a paternity test without the consent of the mother. Zypries has said she wants to protect families. She argues that secret paternity testing by fathers violates the privacy rights of children and puts mothers in a vulnerable social position. Opponents of the proposed legislation say it discriminates against fathers. "There is no dispute that the interests of the child are important, but who has the right to tell me what is right for my family?" said Walter Dietz at the University of Mainz, a father of three.