BOOTS the Chemist, despite being a bastion of the British High Street and seemingly as virtuous as its head-girl cousin M&S, is a bit of a gossip.
Boots knows all your dirty little secrets.
As well as providing shelves full of ‘adult toys’, discreet morning-after pills and pregnancy testing kits, Boots will go even further: they’ll tell you who the Real Daddy is.
Actually, Boots will take £30 off you to sell you the paternity kit and whack on another £129 for the processing, but eventually, you will indeed find out if someone was, or indeed wasn’t, there at the moment of conception.
In Britain about 50,000 children born every year are registered without a father being named on the birth certificate. However, unlike pregnancy tests and morning-after pills, paternity testing is not available on the NHS, even if ordered by a court.
The justification, say the manufacturers, is that one in 25 men, according to woolly figures quoted in various bits of research, is not the biological parent of a child he believes he fathered.
Paternity tests are nothing new. You could already get them online, and at some independent chemists.
In no way do I think that true paternity should be swept under the table. And I don’t assume this is just an issue of Men’s Rights – and these days they seem to have fewer. I’m sure there are plenty of Dads who have a niggling suspicion that they are bringing up someone else’s child, or paying for one they never actually see.
But there are also mothers who face accusations of infidelity and for whom such a test would prove a father-in-denial responsibility beyond doubt.
The whole process is undoubtedly painful and has argument and betrayal at its core . And yet at the heart of this venom and bitterness is a child, an utterly blameless child.
The kits at Boots do require the presumed father, mother and children over 16 to sign consent forms (with the mother signing for young children), as well as proof of identification – all measures that can be faked, even though since 2006 it has been illegal to take someone’s DNA without permission.
Growing up in the 1970s, there were plenty of rumours about who’s Dad-wasn’t-really-their-Dad. I know people who knew the truth about their parentage, but felt they’d had a better life with the family they had, even if it wasn’t the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I heard a heart-wrenching interview with a father who said he’d always had his doubts that his teenage son was really his, but had brought him up and shared custody after a bitter divorce. When the mum lost her temper and blurted out the truth to her son, he sought reassurance from the man he’d always known as his father. ‘Dad’ then carted the kid off to get a DNA test to prove he’d always been right, then triumphantly returned to throw the evidence in the ex-wife’s face. But what of the 16-year-old child, whose life had just been shattered by the two people he thought loved him unconditionally?
The labs say most tests are done on newborns or very young children who are too young to understand the implications. But they will one day grow up. And what about your DNA being taken? Who is responsible for destroying it? Or will DNA labs be able to sell your data without your consent? Will paternity tests be routinely done in the delivery room so there’s no room for doubt? Or trust?
What Boots has done – purely for its own profit – is ‘normalise’ the paternity test as something you can buy along with deodorant and a sandwich.
Jeremy Kyle must be terrified: who is going to watch the results of “My Mum was a bit of a Slapper” if we can all just pop down to Boots and scrape a cotton bud around our cheeks?