Access to offshore parentage testing

35.96 Australian and foreign laboratories market parentage testing services through the media, including the Internet. The availability of offshore testing raises concerns about the ability to regulate ethical, legal and quality assurance standards in the provision of services to Australian consumers. DP 66 asked what steps, if any, should be taken to regulate Internet advertising of home use DNA parentage test kits and testing services.[97]

35.97 Dr Geoffrey Edelsten submitted that his company, Gene-e Pty Ltd, uses an accredited laboratory in the United States to conduct its parentage testing. He suggested that this form of testing is cheaper and more accurate than accredited laboratories in Australia.

[T]he quality of testing is, it is submitted, of as high a standard as that conducted by laboratories in Australia. The consumer however can obtain this testing at approximately 50% less than that charged by Australian laboratories … Our testing service provides a higher level of accuracy in paternity as 13 alleles are tested routinely.[98]

35.98 Dr Edelsten stated further that there is no evidence of any detriment caused by current advertising, and noted that Australia is part of the world community. He saw no reason to regulate Internet and other advertising for parentage testing.[99]

35.99 Several submissions emphasised the desirability of regulating Internet advertising of parentage test kits and services,[100] while others noted the difficulty in regulating Internet content.[101] Some suggested that if it were not possible to regulate Internet content, there should be greater community and professional education to limit the number of people using the services[102] or to ensure that persons using the services are informed about the desirability of counselling.[103] By contrast, Privacy NSW suggested that:

the emphasis should be on the proposals to regulate laboratories and the reception of evidence by the courts, rather than attempting to directly influence human behaviour through regulating communication over the Internet. While this does create a risk of driving unprincipled testing practices offshore, it is not clear that imposing restrictions which only extended to Australian based web sites would lead to a significantly different outcome. This is an eventuality that might better be addressed in the future, should the implications of a lack of regulation of on-line advertising become more apparent.[104]

35.100 The Inquiry recognises that continued access to offshore parentage testing could undermine the ethical and technical standards recommended in this Report. At the same time, the Inquiry acknowledges the difficulty of regulating Internet content, particularly the services that are provided by foreign companies and are advertised through websites hosted on non-Australian servers. Until such time as ‘direct to the public’ parentage test kits are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (see Chapter 11), the Inquiry considers that it would be premature to implement a regime intended to restrict Internet advertising of parentage test kits and testing services.

35.101 In Chapter 12 the Inquiry recommended a new criminal offence where a person submits a sample for genetic testing (including offshore testing) without the consent of the person from whom the sample originated. In addition, in this chapter the Inquiry recommends that non-accredited parentage testing results should not be admissible in legal proceedings in federal, state or territory courts. These recommendations should deter members of the Australian community from using offshore parentage testing services that fail to meet minimum standards of proficiency, reliability and ethics.

[97] Australian Law Reform Commission and Australian Health Ethics Committee, Protection of Human Genetic Information, DP 66 (2002), ALRC, Sydney, Question 31–1.

[98] G Edelsten, Submission G117, 14 March 2002.

[99] G Edelsten, Submission G206, 27 November 2002.

[100] For example, see New South Wales Legal Aid Commission, Submission G282, 24 December 2002; Office of the Privacy Commissioner (NSW), Submission G257, 20 December 2002.

[101] Centre for Genetics Education, Submission G232, 18 December 2002; Human Genetics Society of Australasia, Submission G267, 20 December 2002; Institute of Actuaries of Australia, Submission G224, 29 November 2002; Office of the Privacy Commissioner (NSW), Submission G257, 20 December 2002.

[102] Centre for Genetics Education, Submission G232, 18 December 2002; NSW Health Department, Submission G303, 13 January 2003; Department of Human Services South Australia, Submission G288, 23 December 2002; Genetic Technologies Corporation Pty Ltd, Submission G245, 19 December 2002; Queensland Government, Submission G274, 18 December 2002; A Newson, Submission G283, 23 December 2002

[103] NSW Health Department, Submission G303, 13 January 2003.

[104] Office of the Privacy Commissioner (NSW), Submission G257, 20 December 2002.