A while back I introduced Creative Minority readers to gene patents. In the 1980s, the United States Patent and Trademark Office started issuing patents for naturally occurring genes. Since then a quarter of our genes have been patented and companies and universities are laying claim to what we naturally produce in our bodies every day.
I asked you to keep your eye on a court battle between Myriad Genetics and the ACLU. To keep this saga pithy, I will crudely summarize: ACLU sues Myriad over its patent on breast cancer gene. Judge agrees gene patents are ridiculous. Myriad appeals. Appeals court overturns verdict saying once DNA is isolated, it can be owned. Case goes to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS kicks it back to the Appeals court to reconsider their ridiculous ruling. Now the Appeals court has upheld these gene patents allowing the systematic claim of ownership of the human body to continue.
So the Appeals Court has ruled again that you own your DNA while it is in your body, but if someone extracts it
and identifies the purpose of it, they can own it. Even though it is
still your DNA from your body.
Needless to say, I am furious. To assert that DNA isolated from the body is remarkably
different than the DNA found in the body, and therefore patentable, is
ludicrous. I have isolated DNA from thousands of patients and never
once did I think it didn’t contain the same information as DNA inside
their bodies or that it was a novel “invention.” If I did think that isolated DNA was so different from
DNA inside the body that it was a patentable invention, I wouldn’t
bother testing it. I put the patient’s name on the tube, for Pete’s sake, not mine.
As I have said before, gene patents naturally reduce the human body to
pieces that can be bought and sold. And that is why we need to care about this. Companies and universities can own pieces of you, and not just your DNA but your tissues as well. (Another blog post for sure.) Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
I will let smarter men tell you how stupid gene patents are. Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, said about gene patents:
It is a chemical entity, but DNA’s importance flows from its ability to
encode and transmit the instructions for creating humans. Life’s
instructions ought not be controlled by legal monopolies created at the
whim of Congress or the courts.
The late author and physician, Michael Crichton, was also an opponent of gene patents. In the Author’s Note at the end of his book Next, he wrote:
First, genes are facts of nature. Like gravity, sunlight, and leaves on trees, genes exist in the natural world. Facts of nature can’t be owned. You can own a test for a gene, or a drug that affects a gene, but not the gene itself. You can own a treatment for a disease, but not the disease itself. Gene patents break that fundamental rule….
Because there has been no invention, no one can innovate any other use of the patent without violating the patent itself, so further innovation is closed. It’s like allowing somebody to patent noses. You couldn’t make eyeglasses, Kleenex, nasal sprays, masks, makeup, or perfume because they all rely on some aspect of noses. You could put suntan lotion on your body, but not on your nose, because any modification of your nose would violate the patent on noses. Chefs could be sued for making fragrant dishes unless they paid the nose royalty. And so on. Of course, we would all agree that a patent on noses is absurd. If everyone has one, how can anyone own it? Gene patents are absurd for the same reason.
So is it over? Has the ACLU been defeated on this one? I hope not. There is still the chance that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case and make the right decision.
Once again I will quote Pope John Paul II:
On this subject, we rejoice that numerous researchers have refused to allow discoveries made about the genome to be patented. Since the human body is not an object that can be disposed of at will, the results of research should be made available to the whole scientific community and cannot be the property of a small group.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly