Consider this possible sight: a 28-foot recreational vehicle with the slogan “Who’s Your Daddy?” blazoned on the side, prowling the streets of Wilmington. Step up now, and get a paternity test at the mobile lab for under $300.
It’s a reality today in New York City.
The mobile laboratory and clinic is operated by a New York company called Health Street. Although paternity testing is one of their most popular features, the technicians also offer other forms of genetic testing for families. The RV takes blood and other genetic samples and sends them to a laboratory in Ohio for processing, with results delivered in three to five business days.
Prices for the procedure begin at $299, and a physician’s prescription is needed for at least some of the tests.
Beyond New York?
Currently, the mobile facility operates only in New York City, but the groundwork for expansion into other areas of the eastern United States is already in place. Health Street has existing arrangements with out-of-state clinics and even the United States consulates overseas in case some tests need to be performed on people who live out of the range of their facilities.
The founder of Health Street—and also the guy who drives the RV—is Jared Rosenthal, who says that the setting of the mobile lab is an important asset. “The RV is a little more intimate than a clinic, clients tend to talk more they tell us things,” he told reporters. “We experience some of these life-changing moments with them.”
Among the incidents he cites are two women who discovered that they were half-sisters, and a man who found out that he was the father of a friend’s daughter.
The demand for DNA testing has been rising across the United States as births to unmarried women have been increasing. Michael Baird, the director of DNA Diagnostics—a genetic testing laboratory with no connection to Health Street—estimates that almost half a million DNA tests are conducted each year.
The organization known as AABB, once called the American Association of Blood Banks, certifies and accredits genetic labs that perform relationship tests. The AABB says their records show over 380,000 genetic relationship tests were performed in the United States in 2010. While the bulk of those tests were conducted by state agencies seeking to identify fathers who might be responsible for child support payments, a growing proportion of the total represents private individuals looking for answers about their parents and children.
That profile fits the typical customers for Health Street’s services—women trying to determine who fathered their child, and men trying to confirm they are the indeed fathers of children. While Health Street provides the genetic testing to answer those questions, some observers worry that there is no counseling available when the results turn out not to be what the customer expected—or hoped for.