Researchers testify for anti-incest bill

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

Two U researchers testified for a new bill that would outlaw incest through artificial insemination.

The Utah Legislature called upon Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi, a professor in human genetics, and John Opitz, a pediatric professor, to discuss the probability that a child of incest would be born deformed or mentally deficient. Both doctors testified that infants born of first-relationship incest, such as father-daughter, have high rates of mortality, birth defects and mental retardation.

“We wanted people to know the consequences of this kind of relationship,” said Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan.

Stowell proposed the bill in order to outlaw the use of artificial insemination to skirt around incest laws, which are third-degree felonies. As the law stands now, incest can only be prosecuted if a court can prove sexual intercourse took place. Because of the loophole that occurs when relatives use artificial insemination, the bill

would also permit court prosecutors to use DNA testing as evidence.

Stowell handpicked Capecchi and Opitz to testify in favor of the bill because they would be accepted as reliable sources about the chances of deformity in incest cases.

In his testimony, Opitz voiced his support for the bill, but offered a warning as well, saying there might be immigrant families in Utah who legally married their relatives outside the United States. If their DNA is tested, Opitz is concerned that geneticists will have to breach doctor-patient confidentiality, even if the union is legal. Sen. Ken Sumsion, R-Lehi, said the issue never came up during the committee meetings.

However, Stowell said he is confident his bill will pass through the Legislature uninterrupted, since it passed unanimously in an interim committee last November. Stowell said he believes it’s a “pretty good indication” of how the bill will perform in the House and Senate. If the legislation passes, it would be the first of its kind in the nation.

Stowell and policy analyst Susan Allred drafted the bill after an Iron County deputy district attorney, Troy Little, failed to prosecute a father who used artificial insemination to legally impregnate his daughter. Three of the father’s sons brought DNA samples from their sister’s children to Little, but the courts rejected the evidence.

Little told the committee in November that this legislation isn’t as much about justice being served, but about protecting the victims.

Capecchi did not respond to a request for comment.

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