"Knowledge is bliss"- Towards a society without paternity surprises
by Barry Pearson
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In the UK, across the Western world, and elsewhere too, a proportion of children born have a paternity that would be a surprise to the husband or male partner of the mother. This fact has shown up many times: in paternity tests for child support and other purposes, during diagnosis for genetic disorders, unexpected pregnancies during fertility treatment, research that involves sampling blood groups, unexpected results during tissue-typing, etc. A minority of women and men "play away", and sometimes the result is a child.

Paternity surprises break up families, they hurt men who thought they were fathers, and they confuse and hurt children who thought they knew who their fathers were. But there is no consensus about how to eliminate the surprise. Some people seek to do so by censoring the truth. Paternity tests are often viewed with disquiet, even alarm. Many people have the view that such tests must be restricted to avoid these adverse effects. This view amounts to "knowledge can be trauma", with the assumption therefore that "ignorance is bliss".

But paternity tests themselves are simply the messenger. Preventing tests won't eliminate any doubts and suspicions that can also damage relationships. Sometimes, of course, these tests cannot be avoided. Identifying biological relationships increasingly satisfies the interests of children themselves. Instead of trying to censor certain truths about relationships, it would be better to have a society where the truth rarely hurts. In other words, the vision should be:

"Knowledge is bliss".

The proposition here is that this current generation should be the last generation in which a significant number of children are born that have a paternity that would be surprising to the husband or male partner. There is surely no doubt that this is a desirable objective. The claim here is that the means to achieve this now exist, and that what is now needed is to focus on achieving this objective, rather than allowing current problems of surprising paternity to continue into the next generation and so continue to hurt both children and their parents.

This is not a moral argument about adultery; it is a practical argument about the harm caused by paternity surprises. This is not an argument for state-compelled elimination of the problem; it is an argument for the freedom of men and children to learn more about themselves without hindrance, and the freedom to make informed decisions as a result.

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Page last updated: 13 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002