A DNA test is carried out when the biological relationship between two individuals is in doubt or in dispute. The most common of these is paternity testing, used to prove the biological relationship between an alleged father and a child. Although the test is a relatively simple one, samples being taken for analysis using an oral swab, complications can arise if the potential father is deceased. What, then, are the options available to determine the identity of the true father?
What are the Alternatives?
While it might be believed that the true paternity could no longer be established, that is not the case because there are other ways, both of collecting the necessary sample, and of establishing paternity. With regard to the latter, DNA Relationship Testing can be carried out on siblings, parents and grandparents of the deceased, and other close relatives such uncles and aunts, and nieces and nephews. A pattern can often be established that will indicate paternity.
In respect of collecting samples for the deceased, options are also available here, three of which are discussed below.
Case 1 - Less Than a Week Since Death
Any suitable sample can be used to establish the identity of a father by means of DNA paternity tests. A hair complete with root, or fingernail cuttings, are suitable if the deceased has been dead for no more than a week. You would need permission to take the samples, but it is highly recommended that you do, because it might be your last chance to get direct DNA proof. Any competent DNA testing lab should be able to use these samples.
Case 2 - The Form the Sample Takes
The form the sample takes can be important, particularly if the alleged father is deceased and has been cremated or buried. Direct samples from the body are not available, so the samples must be indirect ones taken as soon as possible after death. Examples include a toothbrush, hairbrush with root hairs and cigarette butts. All of these will offer viable DNA samples that can be used to establish paternity. The main problem is one of quantity, because many such samples do not provide enough DNA for an accurate comparison.
Case 3 - Exhumation and Skeletal Remains
You only get permission to exhume a body for pressing reasons, so this is rarely something that can be done in civilian cases. However, if there is a pressing legal reason for paternity to be established, then permission might be granted. It is not advisable to go about this without expert help from a forensic pathologist, because not only is the entire process expensive but the sample type and its size are critical to a successful outcome.
The neck of the femur or the humerus are the preferred bones in the event of the remains having no soft tissues remaining, and around 2 grams should be a heavy enough sample of bone to offer sufficient DNA for an accurate test.
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