UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Dr. Raymund W. Lo
Recently, my equanimity was shattered by a development arising out of my medical practice. I have been performing paternity testing for the past 32 years and have had to testify in court as an expert witness in over 100 paternity cases so far. All my testimonies have been accepted by the judges handling these cases. A few have questioned me about my findings, but it was more of trying to learn about the scientific details of the testing process than anything else.
This particular case, however, was taken to another level. A mother and her three adult children approached me to inquire about the possibility of determining whether her eldest child (X), whose birth certificate was not signed by the father, is a full sibling to the other two children legally acknowledged by the biological father, who was recently deceased.
The other family of the deceased man was contesting the eldest child’s paternity for inheritance purposes. So, an exhumation was not possible. I explained that we could perform a sibship analysis, wherein we would test the mother and her three children. It is based on the principles of genetics in which each parent contributes half his/her DNA to each child but does not give the same set of genes to all the children. Instead, the set of genes each child inherits is determined by a shuffling of the “deck of cards,” so to speak, and so, the children will not carry the same set of genes between them unless they are identical twins.
By testing the mother, we can determine her DNA contribution to each child, and what remains is the paternal DNA contribution. By comparing the paternal contribution of the two acknowledged children to child X, we can determine the cumulative likelihood ratio that the man is indeed the biological father of child X.
This is all very cut and dried, and the science is very robust, to the point where a likelihood ratio of greater than 10 is considered genetic evidence supporting the tested relationship, as stated by the Association for Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies (AABB), the lone accrediting body for relationship testing worldwide. In this case, the likelihood ratio was in the hundreds of thousands, which is very robust evidence of paternity,
This was stated in the report I issued for the case, which was presented as evidence. Subsequently, I was asked to submit a sworn affidavit attesting to the veracity of the report and its contents. Usually, I get to testify to prove I issued the said affidavit, but it didn’t happen in this case. Instead, I got a subpoena from the city prosecutor on the charge of perjury from the other family!
Doctors avoid the legal system like the plague. Getting a subpoena is reason enough to have a panic attack, if not a heart attack. Inured as I am to being on the witness stand, this was still very upsetting to me.
Perjury! What did I lie about? We doctors express our opinions about a patient’s condition based on our physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging findings, among others. These findings are facts scientifically and objectively obtained. They can be verified by the records, and so, are irrefutable.
The diagnosis, on the other hand, is the doctor’s opinion on what is wrong with the patient, or in this case, answering the question of paternity. As an expert opinion backed by years and years of education, training, specialization, and further continuing education, it stands not as a fact but as an opinion, which can be subjected to scrutiny by his/her peers in the medical profession. It cannot be a falsehood, as it is not factual. It is a synthesis of all the data gathered on a case. Go figure where in the world can it be considered perjury.
This was obviously a strategy to intimidate and harass me into withdrawing my affidavit, which clearly shows their desperation because they will lose their case. I may have been rattled but I stood my ground. I can’t let anyone deter me from practicing my profession with integrity. I had no recourse but to answer the charge, so my lawyer and I went at the appointed date and time to submit our counter-affidavits and countervailing evidence at the city prosecutor’s office. My lawyer, who was impleaded in the case as well, also filed a countersuit of perjury against the plaintiff and her lawyer, who should be disbarred for resorting to such foul tactics.
Six months later, I received the city prosecutor’s resolution of the case, which was a dismissal of the perjury cases for all parties. This is by no means the end of the story. I will still have to testify in the paternity suit and property dispute pending in court. Wish me luck!