Paternity test results can be liberating — or devastating. David and Prudence Rexroat, husband and wife, offer DNA testing from an Overland Park strip mall.
Paternity testing makes up 10 to 15 percent of the Rexroats' business. They cultivate it. MedExpress Labs, the Rexroats' company, markets a "peace of mind" test to men who suspect that a wife or girlfriend has been unfaithful.
For $169, a swab of the cheeks can determine biological parentage with greater than 99 percent accuracy. (They've tested 3-day-old babies.) For $189, a baby's pacifier can be tested against the potential father's DNA. Court-admissible results cost more.
In any event, the news needs to come quickly. Almost inevitably, clients ask to receive their answers by phone. "They don't wait for the notification to come in the mail," Prudence says.
MedExpress is essentially a retail receptor for flesh and blood. People come in, fill a vial and wait to learn what the lab says about their thyroid panels, cholesterol levels and burning sensations. The actual tests are conducted off-site, at laboratories that specialize in detecting allergies or markers for prostate cancer.
Prudence Rexroat likes the C.S.I. aspect of her job. "I think it's interesting you can get DNA off of toothbrushes and baby bottles," she says. One day, a woman inquired about a paternity test after seeing on the news that a man she knew had been murdered. The woman had a notion that the dead man might have fathered her 1-year-old child. A trip to the morgue for a DNA sample confirmed it.
More typically, both parents are living. But they might not be a couple.
Prudence Rexroat says she hates having to tell a man that he is raising a child who does not share his genetic material. On such occasions, she tries to be direct.
"I just say it," she says. "I can feel their anxiety. I just read from what the report says."
Births to teen mothers are also tricky. By the time the baby is delivered, the mother's parents and the putative father's parents tend to be snarling at each other. Prudence says she dreads these scenarios. "I know someone is going to yell at me," she says.
The Rexroats, who opened MedExpress in 2008, have experience in the health field but not in a white-coat capacity. David used to work as an insurance broker. As he watched his clients' insurance premiums climb, he developed an interest in wellness programs. Prudence's background is in public health. They giggle when they stop to consider that the current phase of their careers has brought them in contact with people who are willing to appear on Maury. (MedExpress uses the same DNA testing company as the syndicated television show.)
David Rexroat says that when it comes to health, knowledge is a good thing. At the same time, he sometimes questions the value of paternity testing in instances where adults want to verify that the men they knew as their fathers had in fact furnished the sperm at conception.
"Unfortunately, you do wish for some people's sake — " David says.
" — they hadn't done it," Prudence says, finishing her husband's thought about people who might regret taking the test.
Ease and affordability have made paternity testing more common. Men who question their paternity learn that they are not the father 30 percent of the time, according to research.
Armed with negative test results, more men are seeking relief in the courts. Last year, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill giving duped fathers a way out of paying child support. In Topeka, a similar bill failed.
MedExpress Labs also tests for infidelity in instances where there are no children. Underwear, for instance, might yield a sample of unidentified DNA. Science, it seems, has it in for cheaters. But test tubes might not enforce a new morality. As David Rexroat notes, "Humans are going to act the way they're going to act."