"Knowledge is bliss"- Towards a society without paternity surprises
by Barry Pearson
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Strategy for the 21st Century

This paper doesn't define a roadmap for achieving this objective. Instead it assumes that the details will emerge within many laws and rules over a decade or two.

Guiding principles

All people have rights to personal knowledge about their biological relationships

People do not need to justify this; they should have the knowledge just because they want it. They should also have privacy in their quest for this knowledge.

The state should provide support but not compulsion

Society should acknowledge the problems caused by surprising paternity, should adopt the above objective, and then support the process of achieving it.

The only laws needed are general laws, not special ones

There should simply be freedoms to act according to the general laws of the land such as the standard laws of assault, theft, privacy, harassment, data protection, and similar.

Critical success factors


The problem must be acknowledged and understood.

This should involve research into the scale and nature of the problem.

How big is the problem? What are the predictors? How much is accidental and how deliberate? How can the people concerned be persuaded? What are societal views?


There must be a sustained commitment to solve the problem.

There must be adequate awareness among all parties of the nature of the problem and the intention to solve it. Ideally, this should include a new recognition that continuing with the problem is socially unacceptable and ethically wrong.

It will be necessary to identify relationships with other policy areas, such as social security, child support, and the elimination of child poverty. Support services may be needed to cater for paternity surprises that arise on the way.

People must have the courage to stay focused on the objective. The temptation to prolong the problem by attempting to take the easy way out needs to be resisted. Surprising paternity cannot reliably be covered up by any known means.


The methods used must be practical measures that don't challenge human nature.

This lies behind the assumption that this problem cannot be solved simply by avoiding adultery! In fact, it will probably need a multi-pronged approach, based on the results of the above research.


Incentives and disincentives must match the objectives.

There must be no incentives for behaviour contrary to the objectives. Ideally there should be disincentives for such behaviour. For example, child support liability must continue to be based on biological relationships (see Appendix B). This will encourage men and women considering adultery or equivalent behaviour to act appropriately.

There must be no disincentives for behaviour in support of the objectives. Ideally there should be incentives for such behaviour. Perhaps this will include advantages (such as parental responsibility) deriving from voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, based on option use of paternity tests.

Rights and responsibilities in various arenas should be based on biological parentage (except for other formal situations such as gamete donation and adoption).


Progress towards the objectives must be monitored.

This includes monitoring both the degree of social acceptability (or otherwise) of the behaviours concerned, and the degree to which the problem continues to exist. This will have to be a continuing endeavour.


Readers are invited to compare the above critical success factors with the UK's "don't drink and drive" campaign over the last decades. While success there isn't complete (and probably never will be), the latest generation, on the whole, considers driving after drinking to be socially unacceptable.

Society is known to have a problem with paternity surprises, but for the first time in history, largely because of new technologies, there is a practical need to solve the problem and there is the means to do so. Such technologies include:

1. The human genome project emphasises the importance of biological relationships.
2. Paternity tests provide essential monitoring, plus incentives and disincentives.
3. Existing and future male and female contraceptives provide the means to succeed.

The people who will be having children in 2020 are not yet set in their ways. Now is the time to show them the value of this vision.

"Enough is enough". Let's solve the problem, and not just try to hide it.

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Page last updated: 6 July, 2004 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002