When a former employee of Washington hairdresser Andre Chreky accused him of being the father of her teenage son, he knew that couldn’t be the case. But a DNA paternity test conducted by Laboratory Corp. of America, or LabCorp, one of the largest paternity testers in the country and the state of Virginia’s exclusive contractor, said that he was with 99.99 percent certainty.
Then it turned out that LabCorp was woefully understaffed with dire consequences for the accuracy of DNA test results and the people affected by them. At LabCorp, only five people review data from DNA tests and make paternity determinations. One supervisor testified at Chreky’s trial contesting the results of the DNA test that he worked 10-hour shifts during which he issued an average of one paternity report every four minutes.
DNA experts say Chreky’s case underscores a growing problem in the burgeoning field of DNA testing: People make mistakes, and people collect the DNA samples and perform the analysis. So, they say, although DNA is as reliable as ever as a definitive science, the people reading and analyzing that science are imperfect. And the volume of DNA testing keeps rising.
People do make mistakes but Anthony Chreky didn’t make one with the woman who claimed he was the father of her son. After two years in court, the judge ruled in Chreky’s favor but he’ll never be able to claim back the time he spent worrying, the money he paid to support a son he didn’t father, and the resources he used to fight the wrongful paternity case.
As much as I believe DNA tests can revolutionize medicine and our world at large, they are as prone to error as any other technology. Whenever possible, get a second opinion or confirmatory test.
The Washington Post, August 20, 2005