The Conspiracy Against Cuckolds

There appears to be a consensus among medical professionals that husbands should not be told when they are not their wife’s child’s father.   In a new paper in the journal Bioethics, Erica Lucast says

Counselors … tend to be cautious and prefer to deceive male clients when possible in order to protect their partners [while] … patients … tend to favor disclosure when it is done sensitively and with ample warning to the woman.

She cites a Journal of Genetic Counseling survey, published in 1990, of 677 geneticists in 18 countries, responding to this scenario:

You are evaluating a child with an autosomal recessive disorder for which carrier testing is possible and accurate.  In the process of testing relatives for genetic counseling, you discover that the mother and half siblings are carrier, whereas the husband is not.  The husband believes that he is the child’s biological father. 

The results depended very little on the country:

96% of respondents believed that protection of the mother’s confidentiality overrode disclosure of true paternity.   Of these, 81% … said that they would tell the mother in private, without the husband present, and let her decide what to tell him; 13% … would tell the couple that they are both genetically responsible, and the remaining 2% would ascribe the child’s disorder to a new mutation, a one-in-a-million-occurrence.   As their reasons for such answers, 58% cited preserving the family unit, 30 % cited the mother’s right to decide, and 13% cited the mother’s right to privacy. 

Lucast goes even further, arguing that medical geneticists should not even offer couples an informed consent option to decide up front whether they would want to know if genetic tests reveal that the husband is not the father.  Her reason is that doing so could inform husbands that genetic testing can reveal paternity.

It is much more likely that bringing up the possibility prior to testing will put the woman in the very position we are trying to protect her from. … If, as I have suggested, the counselor plans to attempt to keep paternity but not personal genetic information from the man, it is probably better not the discuss the issue ahead of time.

I wonder how often medical professionals, given a choice, tell a wife that she caught a sexually transmitted disease from her philandering husband.

Addendum: Tom Crispin points us to "Judge bans husband from naming adulterer," and Annrandgirl points us to "men [without custody] banned from testing a child’s DNA" and "man [needs] consent of his accuser," all from the United Kingdom. 

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  • Matthew

    Maybe it’s a conspiracy to protect the children’s interests. . .

    • Snap

      Children are used as bullet-shields for all manner of social atrocities.

      This is no different.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    I shake my head in wonder whenever people mention the opinion of bioethicists in some discussion. They generally assume that said opinions in some way reflect ethics as the term would be reasonably understood by the bulk of the population. So far as I can tell, the profession of “bioethicist” is largely populated with people that I vehemently disagree with. The most intriguing meme in this profession is that it is generally best to make important decisions on behalf of people because we must never allow them to make such hard decisions on their own if they might make the “wrong” decision, with “wrong” being “the decision a bioethicist would personally dislike”. This article seems completely consistent with this bias.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/tschoegl/ Adrian Tschoegl

    Two thoughts:
    1) Should the husband find out later that he is not the father, can he sue his wife and the doctor for conspiracy to perpetrate a fraud? The cuckolded husband will, after all, have been providing financial support for a child that he might not have otherwise supported.
    2) The doctor should tell the wife she has a sexually transmitted disease. She needs to know that she has it as it is important information about her partner, who may or may not have been her husband.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/nicholasshackel/ Nicholas Shackel

    Robin: Great contrast at the end. These kinds of cases are extraordinary, and extraordinarily pervasive. As the law now stands men can be coerced on pain of prison to pay for children that are not theirs, but these professionals are willing to cannive in the woman’s deceit. The anti-male bias is absolutely naked despite being promulgated in the midst of a culture that represents itself as promoting sexual equality. Of course, its possible that the verbiage of sexual equality is merely camouflage for the discriminatory policy of promoting of female interests that is in force.

  • Bruce G Charlton

    I talked with a medical geneticist about 15 years ago who told me that in their lab they had found a few children who were not related to _either_ parent – presumably due to mix-ups in the maternity ward, or some kind of deception…

  • Carl Shulman

    If the counselors are straightforward utilitarians, they may decide that the placebo effect (contented ‘fathers’ remaining so) benefits to men alone outweigh the costs, even before considering the interests of the mother and child. While this would undermine trust in genetic counselors, those individuals sufficiently informed to identify the conspiracy needn’t worry too much about it because they can have an explicit paternity test conducted.

    I would be more concerned about falsification of a field’s general research results in public discourse than failure to disclose in an individual case. A rational individual can do a quick Google search to counteract deception by a counselor and locate reliable paternity testers, but a general falsification will create many misleading hits to drown out the actual literature on a subject. For instance, if the American public receives an exaggerated picture of the risk of acquiring HIV through heterosexual intercourse (especially in the absence of other STDs or open sores to facilitate blood exchange), that may encourage safer sex and support for anti-HIV research, but also risks misleading decision-makers about the relative benefit of different countermeasures.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Carl, if husbands thought that for them the placebo effect benefits would outweigh the costs, then they would choose on an informed consent form not to know.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Robin, that follows for homo economicus but not homo sapiens. Also, counselors may be doing it for the male placebo effect, but have a different assessment of the male placebo effect than the average man.

    It’s an interesting question. Does “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be!” include otherwise happy families? I am never in favor of self-deception or deliberate refusal to seek truth for oneself; so a self-respecting person should always ask for the test results, no matter how horrible they might be. That part is straightforward. The question of what you are obligated to tell *other* people, I do regard as a different one. If you speak, it should be the truth; but silence is not always wrong.

    From my existing ethics, I see two immediately clear proscriptions: The man should not say that he would rather not be told. And the counselor should not actually lie.

    One must assume that the father and child *will* eventually find out. The cost of DNA testing is only going to keep doing down. But there may be a significant utility, to the child, to delaying the relevation until the child has graduated from college. This applies to both the man and the woman – if you say the man shouldn’t know, then neither should the woman.

    Romantic relationships that can be destroyed by the truth should be – the partners can find someone else and start over. But a family cannot always be reformed, and I find myself genuinely uncertain of the ethics of this case.

  • Carl Shulman

    Robin,

    Consider the psychological difference between not actively seeking out a paternity test ($250-$2000) and refusing information that already exists and that you can access for free as part of a test that needs to be done regardless. Secure men can justify, to themselves, not seeking out paternity information in the former case on the basis of cost, but in the latter they have to admit to themselves that they are engaging in self-deception.

    In other words, the counselors’ antics distinguish between men who are already worried about paternity (who can just go get tested independently or google Mendelian inheritance) and those who are not. The informed consent form would destroy the peace of mind of the latter group and force them into an angst-filled choice.

  • Tom Crispin

    Cui bono? Since this ethical position reduces the costs of philandering (some cuckolds will be able to identify the true father, with possile violent consequences), does this suggest that the geneticists and ethicists are getting some action on the side?

  • Robbie Muffin

    Eliezer, your model presupposes both a level of sophistication and access that does not, to my mind, apply in general to people. Particularly, the suspicion necessary to consider any options of genetic testing surely does not automatically apply.

    The reason for this particular genetic test was not for paternity, but to test for a recessive gene. Most genetic tests do not make paternity explcit, unless that is the purpose of the test. (In fact, I expect that is why the specific example scenario was imagined.)

    Still, I have sympathy for the women in that position. As well, I am concerned for the other reasons cited by providers in the study. And a particularly dark consequence of the informed consent option is that someone, for fear of whatever consequences, might work to delude or otherwise avoid testing that is essential.

    Given those consequences, the potential solution of requiring paternity tests at birth could also delay necessary treatment, (and the Acknowledgement of Paternity, used, with federal 70% signing quotas on providers, to avoid covering Welfare for the child, is not required in cases where they are married — paternity is assumed legally in those cases).

    Without being able to avoid this situation at the time of testing, and the relatively even chances for harmful outcome regardless of reporting or pre-situation methods (to avoid the situation in the first place), I can understand not telling the father. So far as matching it to other, perhaps more examined situations, there is something of a precident in HIV tests: If a woman tests positive for HIV, the providers cannot tell the husband, by law — regardless of her perchant to act ethically in such an emergency situation, as would be demonstrated by the required councelling in a positive.

    — note: I am an American and I am commenting on American healthcare. And I do not work in healthcare: would love to see more from people who do.

  • Mantra

    A number of studies – the first back in the 1920s about 10-15 years after blood typing was discovered and then as recently as ten years ago when DNA typing became cheap and using an cross-cultural sample – have shown that, based on testing of mother and child at hospitals at birth, the average percentage of cuckold life children in the general population, regardless of century or culture, is/has been between 10-15% of all births. If you back that out with fertility rates per sexual encounter, even counting contraceptive use, you get a cuckolding encounter rate that probably would shock most (naive fundie) people. Though the surveyed rate (~30-50%) of cheating by wifes is about right based on this cuckold rate.

    The fact that this rate has not changed either over time or across cultures is rather interesting. First it means there was never such a thing as a golden age of morality – given that the population has only increased over time that ought be self-evident but that doesn’t stop people from living the illusion or spewing propaganda.

    Second it means that the ideal of life-long marriage both ignorant and naive as cultural construct or model. Recent literature about the history of marriage reinforces this – marriage for romance is an utterly bizarre aberration in the historical record with only a century of precedence. In fact, marriage-for-business with affairs-for-romance (with either same and opposite sex) have been the norm throughout human history. The idea of cuckolding fits this model pretty well.

    An interesting side note regarding the DNA-based numbers: the percentage of children resulting from cuckolding is higher (to a statistically significant degree) when the child was named for the father (e.g. John Doe Junior) than not (e.g. Sam Doe). If your wife seems real enthusiastic about naming your new son “junior” after you, you might want to worry. :-)

    Given our litigious society in the US, it seems like it *should* be a slam dunk that a man could successfully sue the doctors for failing to inform and collect damages amounting to child support costs. The only reservation is that there have been plenty of cases where men have been forced to pay child support even after it was shown they weren’t the father by paternity tests. Certainly you could (and should) make life financially and professionally unpleasant for such a doctor. That would be morally satisfying even if you lost.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Mantra, in most of medicine you can only sue a doctor for malpractice if he deviates from standard practice; it doesn’t matter how effective standard practice is. In this case, deception is clearly standard practice.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Robbie, if a husband has HIV is the doctor also forbidden from telling the wife, or does this rule protect only wives?

    Tom, doctors and policy makers are likely to be males with a better than average chance of attracting women for illicit affiars. So they may well push policy to favor cuckoldry.

  • Robbie Muffin

    The husband’s rights are equally protected under the law. Not really sure about that but, just call it a hunch. :)

    Robin I hear where you are coming from, the moral outrage you express is normal but I think you are directing it irrationally.

    Suppose you require the parents to sign if they only want to know the results. If the wife is amoral enough to be in this situation, is it so unlikely she would be fearful enough to irrationally avoid testing? Perhaps persuading the father for second, and third opinions, etc. Surely, eventually, the law would have some means to step in for neglect or child abuse or something but, in the interim the child _could die_.

    I doubt any man in that situation would prefer their right to know over that child’s right to life. And if they do, it doesn’t matter.

    If you go back further, and require paternity tests at birth for married couples (this would occur before birth certificate, and is basically immediate in the health care), the mother could refuse, fret, or even just delay in fear, long enough to put the baby at risk if they needed immediate tests for treatment. Going back further buys you nothing, in terms of the safety of the child.

    If you just say “screw it, we’re telling him”, you breach the mother’s right to privacy, and more importantly put the mother at risk — perhaps the child as well.

    Again I think no father would prefer his right to know over the right to life for the child.

    So far as the HIV example I gave, the required councelling lets the providers judge risks and, if necessary, alert authorities. There is immediate and real risk but it is an amazingly inhumane and psychopathic individual that would not put pettiness aside, and further could perform adequately in seduction and sex, under the circumstances of discovering their life is so seriously at risk.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Robbie,

    Your argument that fearful mothers may delay their child’s being tested has convinced me completely; I had not considered that at all. So: Paternity-related results of such tests should not be revealed, period. There shouldn’t even be an option on the form. Anyone interested in paternity should have to get a separate explicit paternity test.

  • Carl Shulman

    Eliezer,

    I’d agree on the outcome generally, but there is a tradeoff in giving the father false information about his carrier status that could justify exceptions. What if the homozygous child will die shortly of its condition, and the father plans to get a vasectomy if he is told that he is a carrier to avoid a similar ordeal?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Carl, in a case like that, I don’t see any good way to avoid the “fearful mother” problem. The father needs to know that he is a carrier in cases where he is a carrier, and should not be lied to in cases where he is not a carrier. The only solution I can think of is to classify which genetic disorders are homozygous, and this is unstable against Googling. There is no way in general to tell a couple: “Your first child died of a genetic disease, but don’t worry, the chance of it happening on future occasions is zero” without the father drawing the obvious conclusion that future children will have different parents. Would it help to not warn the mothers that the test may reveal information about paternity…? I don’t see any simple stable solution here. Except, of course, not to commit adultery.

  • Douglas Knight

    ‘There is no way in general to tell a couple: “Your first child died of a genetic disease, but don’t worry, the chance of it happening on future occasions is zero” without the father drawing the obvious conclusion that future children will have different parents.’

    2% of the people surveyed thought that lying and saying that’s it’s a “one-in-a-million” (??) new mutation is a reasonable solution. Of course, one can break that solution by propagating information, but it’s not obvious to me that this would travel so fast (or at all). I might call it stable. If it works as advertised, then I think it addresses most of the complaints raised.

    I guess EY ruled it out by ruling out direct lying, but I feel better about lying about inferences than withholding observations. Maybe I have a post-veil bias to effectively giving information to people with priors.

  • http://www.truepress.com/?p=624 TruePress

    The Conspiracy Against Cuckolds

    Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the link to this blog post on how medical professionals (geneticists) handle the discovery that the husband is not the father of a couples child.  As a husband and father, I find the results troubling.   An…

  • http://whimsley.typepad.com tom s.

    One thing I don’t see mentioned is, what about false positives? If you are going to tell a man that he is not the father of his partner’s child the first thing to do is be damn sure you are certain, especially because widespread screening for low-frequency events leads (statistically) to a high representation of false results.

    Medical professionals are often over-certain about the usefulness and accuracy of their tests – perhaps this is a case where they have learned the value of a little humility?

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    Robin, this practice might be widespread, but I believe (based on weak recollections) that relative immunity to malpractice claims applies when “standard of care” was followed, which, by my limited understanding of the medical profession, is a technical term that designates explicitly defined procedures in various situations. This deception practice may be widespread, but probably is not “standard of care”.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    I want to respond to a thread in some comments above, that this situation represents an anti-male bias on the part of the medical profession. I don’t think this example shows it, because of the difficulty of finding a parallel case where fathers give birth to children where the wives aren’t the children’s mothers. There may be other medical situations which are more parallel and where men and women are treated differently, but this is not such a case.

    I also strongly suspect that all commenters on this posting are male (in fact I think all commenters and all posters on this blog have been male so far), which especially in a forum like this one should make us exceedingly cautious about the self-serving effects of identifying anti-male biases in others. Female voices would be a welcome counterpoint in such a discussion.

  • Childless in Seattle

    Widespread paternity testing would create an incentive for women to be faithful — or at least practice contraception more carefully. For this reason alone, I’m all for it.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Hal, looking for exact symmetry wouldn’t be the best way to look for gender bias, since men and women traditionally bring different things to the relationship, and so have somewhat different ways to “cheat.” Traditionally, a man fears that he will raise a child that is not his own, while a woman fears that a man will not devote himself and his resources as fully or for as long as is expected, or that he will not have as many resources as advertised. So to check for bias we would want to see who else conspires to hide from mothers clues that their husbands plan to leave them, have few resources, or plan to divert resources from the relationship. Of course this is muddled by the fact that tradition is in the process of changing.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Looking over these comments, I am struck once again by the thought that, in a self-consistent and highly entangled universe, no one can tell a truly realistic lie.

  • http://www.1moreblogger.blogspot.com Ray G

    The innumerable gray areas become an issue once the decision has been made by the medical professional that it is really their decision to make. Assuming that they are in a position of authority because they possess such information, does not actually confer upon them any real moral authority. It is this assumed moral authority, and the arrogance that naturally follows, that leads to so many supposedly ethical problems.

    Lying to someone for their own good, regardless of one’s justifications, is the very height of arrogance. Where in medical school does the student undergo “Self-righteous arrogance 101″ or do such attitudes simply become ingrained over the course of their training?

  • Robbie Muffin

    Ray, many people have posted with what appears to be a cross-identification of lying and not universally representing truth. They are separate issues to some degree.

    It has been my experience that people in medicine have a rather unusual, often personal, view of ethics. But just about all of them are very concerned with ethics and particularly a right to be treated as well a right to act humanely for the patients. The caricature being painted, of lying and amoral healthcare people that for some otherwise almost bizarre reason are still in the practice, is completely out of place.

    It is lying, in a common conversation between two people, to withhold any information, maybe. Stripped of all formalism and simply looking at an idea of naïve conversation between two people –sure it can be lying.

    The medical system is given a terrible burden of responsibility far exceeding those naïve communications. It would not be ethical to practice medicine, and require the practitioners to deal with the full spectrum of intents and meanings involved in the naive concerns of the patients, their family, their friends, and their community. Maybe people, all people, should not be allowed to practice medicine then.

    That isn’t entirely out of line, but it is a very different problem.

  • legal dude wandering by

    Something someone wrote struck me: “If you just say “screw it, we’re telling him”, you breach the mother’s right to privacy, and more importantly put the mother at risk — perhaps the child as well. Again I think no father would prefer his right to know over the right to life for the child.”

    My first thought was “a mother has a right to privacy regarding her child’s DNA? Huh?”

    Perhaps the person was writing in haste, but the mother has no *legal* right to privacy here.

    The father can legally conduct that test any time he wants, and the mother has no right to stop him. His DNA and his child’s DNA are needed, not the mother’s. The father controls the test and, therefore, the medical information that results. It is a medical matter involving the father and child, and they–not the mother–would have the right to privacy regarding the test results.

    If the mother has sole custody, she would still have to produce the DNA on court order, and would not get to control the test results in that situation either.

    In sum, it is not her privacy involved. Thus, she has no right that trumps the father’s right to the information, and he does have a right involved.

    But if you are saying that fathers should not have the right to test their own children at all, because it appears that you are concerned about violent reactions, I think the law currently disagrees.

    A mother’s right to control that information about paternity via DNA test must be balanced against a cuckolded man’s right to choose whether he spends his life raising and supporting his own biological children. He does have a right to not be forced into raising and supporting someone else’s children, I think. Conceiving and raising your own children is high up there in life’s list of choices we let people make. That is why we allow men the legal right to challenge paternity via court proceedings when women try and impose it via the courts.

    (For what it is worth, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of men who discover their children are not theirs do nothing to harm either the wife or children. I have no data to support this assertion, so I do it with only a little push.)

    If I can hop atop a soapbox for a moment, what these counselors are really doing is denying the husband full access to his medical records. They are not giving him the results of his medical procedures. Those counselors may be motivated by good intentions, but I’m not sure it is ethical. Rather, they seem to believe that keeping trusting clients in the dark regarding results from the exact procedures requested is the ethical route. As someone pointed out, upon discovery, this is unlikely to build trust in the client community. Rightly so. Frankly, I’m shocked at those numbers, and I’m not easily shocked.

  • Robbie Muffin

    :) I wrote that. The idea was not fully formed so it came out as it did. The first two paragraphs show there is no place in the timeline to “inject” this information safely. The section with “screw it, we’re telling him”, was meant to address the degree of authority in such a policy. Should the providers disobey, as a matter of overall “policy”?

    The problem you face responding to that third paragraph is you must presuppose the good of bias in moral issues, or the requirement for absolute contradiction in the standard of ethics involved. Neither is useful in any argument that the policy should be disobeyed asa matter of policy; on the first point you must admit that either the policy or the disobedience is wrong and should not be (and I felt I established the policy already), on the other hand a system necessarily contradictory cannot make claims motivated by contradiction.

    If I had fully thought it through I would have found a more open, and pleasant, presentation — and I apologize for that.

    The right to privacy of the mother is maybe not involved, perhaps. I can grant, that the right of privacy should apply to the patient only. The test results involved, however, are not paternity but positive or negative genetic linkage for disease (or more generally, anything _but_ paternity). So the information they have, to distribute to one or both parents, is not anything but those results. Other information available, like paternity, is just something that the practitioner can glean from the test, not what they should. Its just that it is impossible for someone interpreting the tests to gather the other information in the process by chance. But that information is a by-product, and the providers are not technically supposed to be in possession of that information, medically qualified, in the first place –nor are they meaning to!

  • Robbie Muffin

    btw, legal dude, this seems very heavily to beg the question of whether medical practice is moral in the first place… and I agree with you that it does not need to be.

    • sd

      It needs to be moral like any other business–  you need to provide what was paid for.

  • legal dude wandering by

    Ah. Reading the issue more closely, you were going back to the concern that screening testing provides side information of paternity.

    Putting laws aside, I fear I side with telling the father. Perhaps it is the experience counseling in that setting, but not telling clients information feels (no better word for it–you cannot make it less subjective) like a betrayal of professional trust.

    The information withheld actually helps him sort out the confusion and fear, doesn’t it? A child has sickened and recessive genes are suspected. Telling him “you are not a carrier and this will not happen again, and we know this because the child is not yours,” seems to be telling him the full information he paid for. The very information he seeks, actually.

    Withholding the geneticist’s professional conclusion regarding paternity out of deference to the wife’s interests makes her the primary client, with the father a secondary client at best, whose concerns about future incidents are subordinate to her economic and emotional interests. Seems like he is getting less than the full scientific analysis he sought and she is getting something akin to … an advocate. When did scientists take on that role? =)

    At the very least, it seems like that should be explained up front.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Legal dude, I don’t question the right of the husband to separately order and pay for a paternity test. The concern about a policy of disclosing side information about paternity is that such a policy will discourage adulterous women from testing their children for genetic disorders.

    The results of “just telling the truth” should always be explored in as much depth as possible before rejecting that option. Maybe one could include a disclaimer on the genetic test that reads, “If you are not actually the father of the child, this test may discover the fact. So if your wife seems reluctant to get the test done, it’s probably because she cheated on you.” That way, the wife has no motive to avoid testing…

    Sounds like a nitwit idea to me. Can anyone think of a non-nitwit variant?

    • flyingsquirrel

      Maybe it would discourage adulterous women from cheating on their husbands?

  • Carl Shulman

    Eliezer, remember that the child originally had visible symptoms that got it taken in in the first place, and this problem only arises afterwards, when testing is done *for genetic counseling.* Doctors could simply not suggest such counseling, or ask the mother first.

    I’d also note that the whole scenario of mothers witholding treatment presumes a remarkably canny and callous mother. How often will a mother observing symptoms in her child 1) Successfully diagnose the disease herself, rather than taking the child to a doctor 2) Realize that as an autosomal recessive disease its presence in the child could be used to identify an infidelity and 3) Refuse to bring in the child at all, rather than taking it in for treatment and keeping the father out of the communication loop. It seems that such medically astute women would be unlikely to risk their children’s health in this way.

    Another option would be to make genetic screening mandatory, as with vaccines. With exponentially improving microarrays it will become feasible to run a broad-spectrum test in infants for most known genetic diseases. Of course, the stress from false positives could outweigh the benefits, but that would depend on the accuracy of the test.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aynrandgirl/ aynrandgirl

    Not telling the man he isn’t the father doesn’t merely give him false information about his genetics (which might induce him to take unnecessary measures to prevent any future children, since he will no doubt ask if future children are at risk), but also condemns him to a future of paying for a child that isn’t his. In other contexts, like obtaining benefits from the government or an insurance company, obtaining benefits (like child support) through deception is a serious crime. It is our zeal to pander to women that allows us to look the other way when women act immorally. As a feminist this makes me wretch; I do not fight for women’s rights just so we can screw men, which screwing is blindingly obvious were we to consider the fate of a man who tried to obtain custody of a child by similarly fraudulent means.

  • anonymous

    Large sections of law as currently practiced favor women (and crooks). My home state, Maryland, requires men to pay child support for any child born in a marriage even if testing proves it is not theirs, favoring adulterous women. (Remember the furor over the tapes of Monica Lewinsky? Maryland also makes recording a phone conversation by a participant a crime, which only benefits crooks, since the person could still testify as to what was said, the tape would only protect liars.)

  • Robbie Muffin

    It is exactly conversations like this which kept me from pursuing medical ethics in the first place! I’m grateful that in practice this does not really apply or even come up — and that situations like this one are contrived.

    “Withholding the geneticist’s professional conclusion regarding paternity out of deference to the wife’s interests makes her the primary client, with the father a secondary client at best..”

    Neither the father nor the mother is the primary client in that situation… are they? It is interesting that the release of information being discussed is being taken for granted to be both a medical information, with all the implications and weight of medical information, and the counseling, with all the non-formal-ity, ambiguity of normal communication. Looking at this problem, we must address the details as being only one thing at a time; any one detail is either a test result with real world medical information or it is (even most broadly) a naïve conversation with all the assurances of counseling.

    “..a disclaimer on the genetic test..”

    Maybe. Without it, if the test results come back and, in the process of counseling, the father doesn’t determine his own situation based on what can and must be said, and what can not be said, the provider begins to enter the situation of having to respect the privacy of the father.

  • David Zetland

    Hal (et al),

    I am NOT worried about anti-male bias. (I am also not having kids — vasectomy — so my position may be selfish.) Besides the historical (and present-day) anti-female bias omnipresent in patriarchal societies, there is the economic and social burden of having a child that almost always falls on the mother when a couple splits. As far as justice is concerned, better to sacrifice the man’s rights to support ONLY his own sperm than to cast another one-parent family on society. (There is some sense of justice as well; if the woman is cheating on “her” man, that may indicate he “deserves” it — golddiggers excepted!)

    Second, there has been some discussion — but no enough — on the common case of men cheating on women. The fact that these men are a lot harder to catch (as far as paternity tests), means that we are treating men and women differently.

    I’m all for this information to be the private knowledge of the woman.

    • flyingsquirrel

      Jesus Christ. Are you sure you are a man?

    • sd

      ” The fact that these men are a lot harder to catch (as far as paternity tests), means that we are treating men and women differently.”
      Yeah, men can’t possibly force women to care for children the women are not responsible for having created.

      (Assuming abortion remains legal).

    • EyesWideShut

      … And .. this .. this is PAS and barinwashing of children by mothers should be carefully monitored.

  • RSaunders

    LegalDude caught on to the issue that occurred to me. As he stated, the specific genetic information requested “am I carrier” is effectively being withheld, and he is in a secondary status relative to the mom (although the doctor may simply not disclose either person’s genetic info but merely say, “this won’t happen again in a union between you two”: technically accurate and evading the issue of why this happened for the current fetus/child.

    I think this flows from a central question, to whom is the doctor responsible: the couple, or each of the individuals? For the initial situation posed of a couple going in for genetic counseling, it seems that the doctor is treating the couple as the client rather than each individual person. That the relationship is defiend this way seems to give the doctor the wriggle room to make such decisions as not telling the cuckold. Were each person considered clients separately, there would be no reason for the doctor to consider the interests of the spouse/partner, and the person would receive complete medical information. But as a couple, you may expect to receive less. It appears in this regard, the whole is less than the sum of its parts (or greater, if you’re a mainstream bioethicist).

  • RSaunders

    Would this mean that it would be appropriate for men to undergo genetic counseling in advance as a precaution? Perhaps as a new “rite of passage” of sexual maturity? Like a prenuptial agreement, but for your genetic material. I’m only half-joking. It seems that the prudent course would be to know what you have going into any relationship, so you never have to worry about for whom the doctor is working. This of course assumes financial means to go through the tests, but the potential costs to the man rise with his financial means, making it that much more prudent.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/nicholasshackel/ Nicholas Shackel

    Robbie: “The husband’s rights are equally protected under the law.” You’re kidding, right?

    aynrandgirl “It is our zeal to pander to women that allows us to look the other way when women act immorally. As a feminist this makes me wretch; I do not fight for women’s rights just so we can screw men, which screwing is blindingly obvious were we to consider the fate of a man who tried to obtain custody of a child by similarly fraudulent means.” Absolutely. The only thing that puzzles me is why you call yourself a feminist. In the UK the feminists, including Baroness Helena Kennedy, were united in wishing to deny men the right to test their putative children’s DNA and have succeeded in having their wish turned into law. It is now a *criminal offense* for a father to test his putative children’s DNA. So why align yourself with *feminists*?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aynrandgirl/ aynrandgirl

    Nicholas: “So why align yourself with *feminists*?”

    More of a historical accident of the name, really. Not sure what other word to use. As you note, feminist politics these days is rarely about helping women, it’s about power and the right to do what you want without consequence (or making somebody else pay for the consequence in the case of making paternity tests illegal without a woman’s consent). I’ve seen self-described feminists argue with a straight face that the government must subsidize women who want children because having an abortion due to financial circumstance is coercive, and under no circumstance should women be coerced into doing anything. Never mind that such a situation is not coercive in any moral sense, there being no actor doing the coercing, it’s a clear manifesto for subsidizing *everything* a woman wants to do, since her circumstances might “coerce” her into doing something she doesn’t want to do.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Nick S., do you have a cite re the crime of testing a kid’s DNA?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aynrandgirl/ aynrandgirl

    DNA testing without the mother’s consent is illegal in England (see last paragraph):
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1730316,00.html

    A man falsely accused of fathering a child can only prove his innocence with the consent of his accuser:
    http://www.fnf.org.uk/readem.htm#wall

    And it’s not just England that wants to make father’s testing their children’s DNA illegal without the mother’s permission.

    Germany:
    http://www.canadiancrc.com/articles/DW_World_Fathers_want_to_know_12DEC04.htm

  • http://gabriel.mihalache.name/econ/2006/12/news_of_the_world_18.php Economic Investigations

    News of the World #18

    Lazy Thursdays The Conspiracy Against Cuckolds, Robin Hanson on the dark and sexist side of bioethics. Highly recommended! Milton Friedman Days, from Cato-at-Liberty. Everyday should be M. Friedman day. Pot is called biggest cash c…

  • http://profile.typekey.com/nicholasshackel/ Nicholas Shackel

    Anti-male catch 23: to clarify an important point about aynrandgirl’s times citation and the meaning of the final paragraph:

    “all men who suspect they may be the father of a child, but who do not have parental responsibility, will be banned from testing a child’s DNA. The new Human Tissue Act will make it a criminal offence to test a bodily sample, including for paternity testing, without proper consent”

    Parental responsibility is a legal status which mothers are granted automatically but which fathers do not have unless they are either married to the mother or apply to a court to obtain. In combination with the UK laws on DNA testing and child support, this creates anti-male catch 23: if you think a child is not yours and are being pursued by the mother for child support, you cannot get it tested without either her permission or you having parental responsibility. If she denies permission you have to apply for parental responsibility. If you are granted it, then you are now legally the father and so have to pay for the child!

  • mandingo

    This, to me is a bit crazy. I don’t see how parents can’t be honest with their kids. This can’t really be good for them in the long run. Being a child of a cuckold would be horrible.

  • sophiesdad

    I performed a vasectomy on a paramedic who was married with two children. Semen analysis is not done normally pre-vasectomy, so I don’t know his pre-op status. At six weeks and eight weeks post-vasectomy, his semen contained no sperm of any description. Three years later, he was again referred to me by his wife’s gynecologist, who called and said he was certain the man had experienced spontaneous recanalization of the vas deferens, since the wife was pregnant. The gynecologist is very religious, and the couple were members of his congregation. The man’s semen again contained no sperm, live or dead. I offered to repeat the test on another day by having him collect another sample after completely undressing in an examining room so there could be no question of a hidden previously-collected friend’s sterile sample. I assumed he would want evidence for his divorce action. Instead, he went to another urologist for another exam, which was also azospermic. He refused to believe that his wife could have cheated, as did the gynecologist. The GYN told them that it only takes one sperm, and that one must have “slipped by”, in spite of the physiologic and anatomic impossibility of such an event. When the child was born, the ABO blood typing confirmed that the paramedic could not have been the father, but he asserted that he was anyway, and they all lived happily ever after. He (and the gynecologist) went with their bias, in the face of uncontrovertible science to the contrary.

    By the way, in Louisiana, the child was “his” legally, regardless, since they were married.

  • J Thomas

    If you go back further, and require paternity tests at birth for married couples (this would occur before birth certificate, and is basically immediate in the health care), the mother could refuse, fret, or even just delay in fear, long enough to put the baby at risk if they needed immediate tests for treatment.

    Robbie, I’m not sure I disagree with this, but I notice that your reasoning can be extended.

    In general, by this reasoning, we should not do anything that will tempt bad people to do bad things.

    So we should never allow witnesses to crimes testify in ways that the criminals can identify them, because the criminals might want to hurt them for it later. It violates the witness’s privacy.

    And since it’s also wrong to let witnesses give anonymous testimony, witnesses should not be allowed to report about crimes at all. After all, when they do so they violate the criminal’s privacy.

    I can certainly see that there are differences between people who break their word about sex with resulting gigantic consequences, versus actual criminals. I think it would be instructive to figure out just what the difference is that causes your reasoning to apply in one case and not the other.

    Here’s an intermediate example: People who take drugs that interfere with their judgement and reflexes might easily want to drive to get more when their supply runs low in mid-bender. And that would be dangerous both for them and for whoever they might run into. So to prevent that bad thing from happening, we should set up a courier service that would quickly and anonymously deliver alcohol, illegal drugs, etc to whoever calls for them. It keeps them off the streets, which is a good thing.

    Here’s another one. If we establish shelters for battered women, we risk that abusive husbands might go crazy and find the shelters and kill the women plus innocent staff members. We don’t want that to happen. Better to leave the women with their husbands. After all the shelters would encourages marriages to break up.

    Here’s the general form of the argument: Somebody has done something bad. We can do something else bad (or avoid something good) to be nice to them. Unless we do the bad thing they will be tempted to do another bad thing that’s worse than what we do. So we should do the bad thing to keep them from temptation.

    This argument may be right sometimes, but surely it isn’t right every time.

    • Watson

      Courier services?  Talk about false equivalent.  No one is suggesting that the state – or even medical professionals themselves – establish elaborate processes for deceiving men into raising children who are not theirs.  They are simply talking about not volunteering extraneous information they have come across about the marriage that is, in fact, none of their business.

      The point is not to prevent the husbands from doing bad things.  It is to respect the privacy of the couple – which means not inserting yourself into their intimate decisions (joint or separate, open or secret) about sexual monogamy.  It is simply an invasion of their autonomy and privacy to do so.  

      • sd

        The information isn’t extraneous, it’s integral to having a complete picture of the child’s medical condition and what actions risk future children with that medical condition. And it’s very much elaborate indeed.

        It does not protect the interests of “the couple,” it protects the interests of the women (assuming they are being intentionally deceptive– some might not even want to do this!) by annihilating those of the men, denying him access to his own medical information, part of the medical information he paid for.

  • J Thomas

    (For what it is worth, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of men who discover their children are not theirs do nothing to harm either the wife or children. I have no data to support this assertion, so I do it with only a little push.)

    Lots of men accept stepchildren. If they do it when it’s completely known the child isn’t theirs, we have a fair chance they’ll accept it when they find out, after they get over the initial reactions.

    But then, stepchildren are subject to more child abuse of all kinds. It isn’t all good. It might be useful to do genetic testing on infants dead of SIDS. Some of that could be the sort of things we’re concerned about. It wouldn’t prove anything in specific cases, but it could be happening more than we’d think, and it might show up statistically.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Is there a dysgenic cost to helping men who are unaware in 2008 that paternity test technology exist become aware of that fact?

    Robin, would you be helping us more by championing the rights of cuckolds, or by engaging in cuckoldry yourself?

  • http://thisisnotimefortheanonymous.blogspot.com Marquis

    wow. just f’ing wow.

  • Pingback: "Mother’s baby. Father’s maybe." Mandatory DNA testing at birth can instate gender equality. | Human Stupidity: Irrationality, Self Deception

  • J.D.

    David Zet NO man should be forced to pay support or raise a child that is not his own,unless they want to. I Know their are states that you are the father as far as support goes regardles if its your child or not if youwere married to the women at the time. I know of a Judge that forced a man to stay married to a woman that was pregnant by another man untill the baby was born. That was wrong. Another case comes to mind. This couple got married went on a honymoon and shortly after she was pregnant and was going to have twins.They were so happy. the day she gave birth was not pleasant she had two black children. She had unprotected sex with a black stripper at her batchlorlet party and was impregnated by him.Pretty dam obvious he wasn’t the father Men in general have been getting shafted not only by adulterous wives but also by the unfair laws. Any health care provider that lies to the father about paternity is an ass

    • Cormac

      Lies?  Yes.  Any heath provider who lies, especially under oath in a legal custody or support proceeding should be punished severely. But what the post was discussing was different.  It was discussing the tendency of medical professionals not to volunteer the personal information they have become privy too as a matter of course but which is really none of their business.

      That isn’t lying.  That is respecting other people’s privacy.

      • sd

        The woman has no right to keep that information private from the one she names father. It is a matter between the father and the child whether he is in fact the father. 

  • J.D.

    David correction Previous post I said pretty dam obvious he was’nt the father: I should of said pretty dam obvious her husband was’nt the father.

  • Roadrunner

    Any doctor or other health that would cover up the fact that the husband is not the biological father of the child is guilty of fraud.! Screw the bitch that was whoring around on her husband and let the chips fall where they may.
    Some cases a paternity test isn’t necessary as a black child born to white parents. Some of the states are changing laws to protect men from having to pay for children proved not to be theirs biologicaly. These laws that give women the right to whore around on their husbands and make him pay for it
    are wrong and should all be changed. No man should be forced to pay for a child that isn’t his.! Roadrunner

    • Cormac

      Fraud?  How do you figure?  They are not paid as detectives to report on her history.  They provide the service they were paid for.  Volunteering sensitive information that wasn’t asked for would be inappropriate in the extreme.

      You seem to take the view that it is somehow a collective obligation of all people to police the sex lives of others.  I find that idea repulsive in the extreme.

      • sd

        They AREN’T providing the service they were paid for. They were paid for providing genetic information about both parents and the children, to assess future reproductive risk as well as explain past events. If the disease is recessive, there is no set of information that can  adequately communicate the nature of the disease, the causes of the disease, and the prospectus for future disease as a result of further reproduction, without containing the fact that the child cannot have resulted from a union between the two supposed parents.

      • Ryan

        Fraud by omission. The doctor has the status of “the child’s geneticist.” They look forward to an ongoing business relationship, providing expert advice regarding and possibly treatment for the genetic condition.

        The purported father only agrees to be the other party to that business relationship because of the false belief in his actual paternity.

        Sorry I couldn’t find anything but a pdf, but here’s Section 551 of the restatement of torts (common law in most all states) on Liability for Nondisclosure.

        http://www.timkaren.com/docs/restatement__second__torts_551.pdf

        I don’t know what a defense attorney could possibly argue if they represented a geneticist accused under that section in the assumed circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.jessop.14 Kelly Jessop

    Sickening. This happened to an ex

  • Cormac

    Makes sense to me.  The medical provider is not the morality police.  It is NOT their place to step into the marriage and get between the two spouses.  Discretion and not volunteering is the appropriate ethical and professional option.  Any parent who wants to know the genetic results can always ask straight up what the results show; I have no doubt that the providers will answer honestly.  

    I am thankful we do not live in a big-brother nightmare where outside authorities decide what each spouse must tell the other and when.  Brrrr; just the thought is chilling.

  • dmytryl

    Simple moral consequentialism: if the husband is told, then the child will suffer increased risk of abuse and death (step-children in general are).

    With regards to effects on the gene pool and the like, providing technical assistance to e.g. husbands that can’t recognize or prevent cheating by other means is clearly dysgenic. Sexual selection may be a huge part of the process of evolution of human species.

    • EyesWideShut

      By your logic women should not be allowed to raise children. Given they are overwhelmingly the prime abusers _physically_ and emotionally of children. Women are also the prime killers of children. Men are the least likely to kill children.

  • ZimbaZumba

    What if the ‘mother’ was not the mother, ie mixed up at the hospital.

  • stopbeingsillyandbiased

    lol at dmytrl. Total absence of positive consequences? Are you suggesting that there are only two humans involved? I guess if a man is boiled down to a consenting paycheck having no rights or interest that would be true. And, of course, why would anyone want to protect _his_ interests. It’s all about the cheating chick and the child. The child, I get. But the cheating woman? No effen way. The man should have a right to make informed choices just as the woman should. You’re bias is stunning.

    • dmytryl

      There’s 4 people involved: woman, child, and 2 men, and it’s zero sum between those two men (or negative sum if you consider hedons).

      More widely, there’s also the society which benefits from sexual selection, and there’s taxpayers who pay for abandoned children and such.