Here’s a question for everyone out there: Would you rather live with doubt or certainty?
Now take it a step further: if you had doubts about the paternity of a child you treated as your own, would you want a definitive answer? That’s a question the District Court in Beersheva (Justice Tzila Tsefat) had to grapple with.
Here’s the link to the decision in Hebrew.
The facts of the case as they appear in the decision are interesting, to say the least, and raise a great many unanswered questions.
The case concerns a paternity suit filed by a woman on behalf of her son, currently 16 years old, against a man she claims is the child’s biological father even though he was never formally registered as such. Not all that uncommon. The clincher here is that the man actually treats this child like a son, spends time with him, supports him financially.
That’s what makes the case strange, since generally women file these suits on behalf of their children in order to be able to sue for child support, which was not the issue here. At the same time, the man, who treats the boy like his son, objected to DNA testing.
The argument of the putative father was that should he be proven not to be the child’s biological father he will not be able to maintain a relationship with the boy, and prefers to live without a definitive answer.
The court did not accept this position, and in fact was critical of it to the point where the judge cast aspersions on the man’s claim that his position reflected the best interests of the child.
Part of the judge’s decision was legalistic; the Law of Genetic Information, 5761-2000 allows for the court to order DNA testing against the will of the person being tested if convinced that there is a reasonable chance the test will show that person to be a parent of the child.
The other level of the decision was the right of the child to know who he is, where he comes from, a right derived from the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and the attendant psychological and social benefits which derive from that knowledge.
At the end of the day, the judge probably made the only decision she could make. However, reading the decision one has the sense that she was overly dismissive of the claim made by the man that he would not be able to have a relationship with the child if shown not to be the biological father.
In her words:
…אילו אכן טובת הקטין היייתה לנגד עיניי המבקש אזי לא היה מאיים בניתוק הקשר שתלוי אך ורק ברצונו.
If the best interests of the child were truly the petitioner’s (i.e. the man’s) concern, he wouldn’t threaten to cut off the relationship, which is solely dependent on his will.
I think the judge is asking a little much from human beings. Does she really believe that a person who has been willing to live with doubt and thus to give the child a decent life, has an obligation to continue to do so once he is absolutely certain the child is not his?
Again, I don’t think that the bottom line of the decision is wrong; it lacks nuance in understanding how human beings juggle living with doubt. I suspect there are not a few people out there who in a similar situation would prefer doubt to certainly.
And more: in a world in which some biological fathers in fact try to avoid supporting their children, or caring for them psychologically, in a situation where someone has behaved up until now like a mensch, he deserves a little slack.