Article

DNA Dilemmas

DNA Dilemmas

Sean Hannon Williams

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This Article introduces a set of novel stories rooted in DNA surprises. As consumer DNA testing becomes more widespread, more people will accidentally discover that a stranger is their genetic parent. Many feel that their birth certificate is now a “lie” and want to correct it. These stories provide a new lens through which to examine the definition of parenthood, who should wield that definitional power, and the relationship between identity and recognition. DNA testing lays bare the intractable conflict between different definitions of parentage—functional, intentional, legal, and genetic—and seemingly demands that we choose one to prevail. This is the DNA dilemma. This Article argues that, after the relevant “child” becomes an adult, the state can and should yield its monopoly over the definition of legal parentage and allow each adult-child to resolve this deeply personal dilemma for herself. Along the way, this Article introduces post-majority parentage as a new conceptual space, seeks to reorient existing scholarship on adoption and donor-conception, defends a novel identity interest in the official recognition of parent-child relationships, and upends common intuitions that birth certificates simply record facts.

F. Scott Baldwin Research Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law. For helpful comments and conversations, I am indebted to Kerry Abrams, Katharine Bartlett, Meghan Boone, Jessica Clarke, Maxine Eichner, William Forbath, Sally Goldfarb, Julie Goldscheid, Jill Hasday, Dara Purvis, Edward Stein, the participants at the Family Law Scholars & Teachers Conference, UNC Law School’s Faculty Colloquium, Wake Forest Law School’s Faculty Colloquium, and Texas Law’s Drawing Board lunch series. For excellent research assistance, I thank Carolyn Adkins. I especially thank the many people who shared their stories with me over the last few years.

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Sean Hannon Williams

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DNA Dilemmas

, 40 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 536 (2022).