Letter from the Child Support Agency
Further to the request from the Science and
Technology Committee about genetic databases, please find detailed
below information relating to the questions raised.
Q1. What current projects involve collecting genetic information
on people in the UK? What other projects are about to start? Are
there collections of material (eg tissue samples) that could be
used to generate databases of DNA profiles?
A1. The CSA obtains DNA samples via blood tests from
individuals for use in paternity testing where disputes arise
over genetic paternity. The samples are destroyed after a set
period of three months and are not, therefore, retained as a database
of genetic material. On the subject of other databases, we are
aware that fear of the CSA has been cited by police officers as
a reason for not giving DNA samples.
Q2. Why are these genetic databases being assembled? How
are these activities funded? What practical considerations will
constrain developments? Are there alternative ways of fulfilling
A2. The CSA samples are collected as part of a voluntary
scheme where disputes arise over genetic paternity. In such instances
they are a step along the route to the payment of child support
maintenance. Where the parties in question do not make use of
the voluntary scheme, the CSA can also pursue DNA testing through
the courts. Fees from the individuals and via the CSA fund the
tests, depending upon the circumstances of the case and the individual
Q3. What is the genetic information that is being collected?
How is it being stored and protected?
A3. The information is collected via blood tests.
The CSA employs University Diagnostics Ltd (UDL) to conduct paternity
analysis. This involves the collection of blood samples from the
parent with care, the alleged non-resident parent and the child
for analysis and reporting. Once UDL have conducted their analysis
and reported the results to CSA and the parties involved, the
blood samples are retained securely at their premises pending
the need for a repeat test. All samples are routinely destroyed
after three months and all paper records are destroyed after 12
Q4. How do the organisations involved see their responsibilities
regarding privacy; consent; future use; public accountability
and intellectual property rights?
A4. The CSA has contracted UDL to carry out all paternity
testing. All UDL staff are required to sign a confidentiality
undertaking and the contract between CSA and UDL requires UDL
to maintain customer confidentiality in relation to all customer
personal information. As the samples are routinely destroyed there
is no information retained on a database that can be used for
future analysis. There are specific safeguards when a blood sample
is refused on religious grounds and use of photographs ensures
that the individuals tested are the correct individuals. Both
"parents" and the CSA are notified of the results of
the tests. Consent is sought from children over 16. Consent is
not sought from younger children at present. We recognise that
this may be an issue since the children in question may be of
an age to understand the process.
Q5. How do they see their activities in the area of genetic
databases developing in the future? What advances in sequencing,
screening and database technology are they anticipating?
Q6. What lessons should be learnt from genetic database initiatives
in other countries?
A5 and A6. In the future we foresee that our activities
will continue to be confined to DNA collection for the determination
of paternity. Changes to legislation may lead to alterations in
the number of cases since we will be in a position to assume that
someone refusing a test is the genetic father. Feasibly this could
stimulate more tests on the "well I might as well be sure"
basis. Nonetheless we are aware of the many ethical and practical
issues that surround the use of DNA samples and the quest for
genetic originsespecially in a climate where sharing of
governmental information is promoted. We will therefore observe
developments with interest and consider our position in the light
of future changes. Allied to this we have conducted literature
searches upon child support and DNA testing in the international
context. This reveals next to no published material specifically
on paternity, child support and DNA. We are, however, part funding
PhD research into this as part of our commitment to further education.
10 October 2000