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The Department of Health already offers a Code of Practice on Genetic Paternity Testing which calls not only for consent but also for those giving consent to be fully informed of the consequences of the test – given the irrevocable circumstances that knowledge of the test results may bring. It also expects robust measures to ensure that the identity of the provider of a sample can be established.

The Human Tissue Authority also provides a Code of Practice on consent. But it is the Human Tissue Act that introduces the offences and penalties.

OUT-LAW spoke to one DNA testing specialist, Crucial Genetics. Its labs are part of Glasgow University and its offices are based in Cheshire.

Business Development Manager Max Hamilton explained that the effect of the changes in September will be "very, very minor" for Crucial Genetics, but might be more significant for others. "Some businesses send DNA collection kits to homes," he said, pointing out that verifying consent in these circumstances is difficult.

Hamilton explained that the company only sends its kits to medical professionals and has them take the samples.

If you want Crucial Genetics to identify whether you are the parent of a child, you will be asked a series of questions about your motives and, for example, whether the child is old enough to understand the procedure.

A testing kit can be sent to your GP, if he or she has known you for three years or more - but it won't be sent to your home, Hamilton explained. The samples are taken by your GP and placed in a tamper-evident bag which is returned to the company with the signed consent forms and a photograph of you that has been signed by your GP. Hamilton said they also check the authenticity of the named GPs together with the supplied address details.

"We try as far as we can to eliminate the risk of forgery or tests being done without appropriate consent," said Hamilton.

He said the company often receives calls from spouses who request tests on a partner's underwear to detect evidence of cheating. "Lives are torn apart by that sort of thing," said Hamilton, also pointing out the difficulty of obtaining consent in these circumstances. "We're unwilling to do it."

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