The Scary Side of DNA Testing
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I am one of five million people who have provided a saliva sample to 23andMe for the purpose of finding out more about myself. Such tests give results in two categories. They tell about ancestry and about genetic predisposition to medical conditions. I was looking for information in the first category. We have always said that my dad’s family perished in the Holocaust, but certainly some of them must have survived someplace in the world, right? Presumably, 23andMe can help me find them. Here’s the problem, though, so far I have not made my test results public. Why? I fear I am going to learn something life altering. Perhaps one of my parents isn’t really my parent and/or maybe I’m not related to my sibling after all. Are these thoughts silly or sound?
I got my answer in a terrific book by Dani Shapiro. It’s called Inheritance. The subtitle is A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love. Shapiro’s DNA test was through Ancestry.com and her results were exactly what I fear. Namely, the father who raised her is not genetically her father. And that half-sister of hers from her dad’s first marriage turns out to be no relation at all.
The reader travels along as Shapiro looks into these shocking revelations. She learns that her parents had trouble conceiving, sought the help of an “Institute” that dealt with such issues, and thereby found success. The Institute mixed the sperm of the wanna-be father with a sperm donor to create their “test tube babies.” They advised the couple to “be intimate before and after the test tube procedure…[leaving] the matter of the ‘real’ father open to speculation.”
Both of Shapiro’s parents are deceased at the time she learns this news and thus she cannot ask them questions. Did they know the truth and withhold it from her or did they choose to believe that the chance of paternity meant paternity? What about the fact that Shapiro looked nothing like her father? He was an Ashkenazic Jew and she was a blue-eyed towhead. People commented on it for years but she was so sure that her family was her family, doubt did not enter her mind. And what about the curious fact that she did not get along with her mother at all but that she and her father were extremely close? How was she to factor that in?
Other questions dealt with her genetic father. Who was he? Was he still alive? Could she find him? Miraculously, she finds him easily, within 36 hours (!!!) of learning there was a sperm donor out there who was related to her. This clearly is not the case for most people in her situation, but she got lucky in this regard.
Though a lot of questions are raised and answered in the book one question is still waiting for an answer and I can imagine another memoir in the future: How many children did her sperm-donor-daddy actually father, and are they “out there” waiting to be found?
There are MANY topics to think about with this book — philosophical, emotional, and logistical — which means this is a story that book clubs will love!
Five Stars! Read it today!
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