Journal Article

Law and the Regulation of Family Secrets

Carol Smart

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 24, issue 3, pages 397-413
Published in print October 2010 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI:
Law and the Regulation of Family Secrets

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This article addresses the changing relationship between traditional legal definitions of motherhood and fatherhood and newer scientific definitions of parenthood. It is acknowledged that procedures like DNA testing have transformed legal interpretations, but in so doing it is argued that the social and cultural significance of kinship has been squeezed out of consideration. There is now an almost unassailable presumption that it is best for a child to know his or her genetic origins, yet there is also evidence that families still keep certain matters (eg donor conception) a secret. These families are increasingly defined as out of step with modern, ethical thinking yet it may be important to understand how such families define a child's welfare. The problem with knowledge about genetic links is that it is not mere ‘information’ but is powerful knowledge that changes relationships regardless of the wishes of those involved. The fear of such changes may mean families prefer to reject openness, especially if the risks of loss appear too high. These issues are explored through data on family secrets and also through an unusual legal case involving a child who took the decision not to know his own genetic origins. The article concludes that it is important, in the rush to impose transparency and openness on families, that we are aware of the negative as well as positive consequences.

Journal Article.  7810 words. 

Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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