DNA Dilemmas

79 Pages Posted: 17 May 2021 Last revised: 26 May 2022

See all articles by Sean H. Williams

Sean H. Williams

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: May 14, 2021


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.

Keywords: Family law, parentage, birth certificates, genetics, identity, bioethics

Suggested Citation

Williams, Sean H., DNA Dilemmas (May 14, 2021). Yale Law & Policy Review, 2022, U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3846271 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3846271

Sean H. Williams (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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