What we need is test for yuck and yuks

Sunday, August 9, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

What kind of woman saves a dress stained with semen? What kind of man chooses to involve himself with her? And how do we feel about this?

The FBI crime laboratory technicians will not find the answers on a navy cocktail dress belonging to Monica Lewinsky. We still do not have a foolproof way to test for fools. Or for character. We are more complicated than the rungs of our DNA ladders.

Just ask Pat Blassie. Or Paula Johnson. Or Boris Yeltsin.

In the past few months, DNA analysis revealed that Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie was buried for 14 years in Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. His remains were taken home to St. Louis by his family last month, and he was given a service befitting a pilot killed in the line of duty in Vietnam.

Just bones -- four ribs, pelvis and the upper part of an arm -- had been recovered from the jungle in Vietnam. In May, the remains were exhumed. DNA tests that were not available 26 years ago confirmed that the "unknown" was Lt. Blassie.

"We're grieving all over again," his sister, Pat Blassie said. An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute. His mother wept. This had not much to do with the shards of bone finally put to rest in St. Louis or his DNA. This was about the man his sister described as "strong and fearless."

Switched at birth

Paula Johnson is the Virginia woman who discovered after DNA testing done during a custody dispute that her 3-year-old daughter, Callie, is not her biological offspring. She is still this child's mother. And she does not require a DNA test to tell her so.

Rebecca Grace Chittum and Callie Marie Johnson are thought to have been switched at birth at the University of Virginia Medical Center in 1995. That's three years' worth of bonding. That's first steps and first teeth. That's watching them toddle, then run. That's strained peas and pabulum. That's potty training.

That is beyond biology.

Rebecca's parents were killed in an automobile accident on July 4, and her grandparents plan to seek custody of her. Paula Johnson says she does not want to take Rebecca away from the family she has known, nor does she want to give up Callie, the daughter she has reared. Latest word is that both families are planning to work together to do what is best for the little girls. It will be up to them. Science is inadequate. And the law is heartless.

Remember Baby Richard? "Please, Mommy. I'll be good. Don't make me leave," he wept as he was taken from the only parents he had ever known and given to the man who passed a DNA test.

Science -- 80-year-old DNA -- proved the remains buried last month in St. Petersburg, Russia, were those of Czar Nicholas II, his wife and three children. But science could not have predicted the pomp or emotion. Or the stirring speech of repentance by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

So, we are now waiting for the results of another DNA test.

Yuck. And yuks.

We have a national discussion of oral sex. Current events you wouldn't want to discuss with your kids at the dinner table. A civics lesson that would have made my teachers blush.

Newsweek reports that Linda Tripp was advised that she might steal a semen sample from Monica Lewinsky's closet via a Q-Tip and a baggie. The New Yorker details how a crime laboratory would "test a garment for traces of DNA."

It's hard to take pride in a leader who is a punch line for jokes you wouldn't tell your mother. A novelty store sells knee pads with the inscription "Stolen from the Oval Office." Jay Leno says the president will insist he had sex but "didn't impale."

How did this happen to us?

Monica's dress will not tell us any of the things we need to know. We still have to rely on the president of the United States to do that.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com