I fear the copious media coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of same-sex marriage might drowned out a pivotal case the Court is hearing right now. At stake is who owns the stuff of which we are made.
As Nina Totenberg reports for NPR, Myriad Genetics and ACLU are arguing about the patentability of our own genetic material. As Christopher Hansen of the American Civil Liberties Union argues:
“A patent isn’t a reward for effort. A patent is a reward for invention. And Myriad didn’t invent anything. The gene exists in the body. All Myriad did is find it.”
But, it may not be as simple as that. Research companies want to be compensated for their efforts. They want to ensure that their work is protected from other profiteers. But, to what extent? Can human genes themselves be patented, or the mechanisms behind them? What is the right of companies like Myriad Genetics to be rewarded for their efforts that contributes to better clinical care and our social good? What are the ethical and moral responsibilities of these companies to put patients first and not keep them from their own genetic information?
Big questions with huge decisions that will impact us and our children.
DISCLAIMER: I reblog this without fear that the coverage of Supreme Court handling of same sex marriage drowns the DNA patenting case. That is a confused statement. Both stories are important and pivotal on their own merits obviously. I am glad NPR is covering this story, but so is the LA Times, WaPo, Voice of America, Huffington Post and many others
Let’s see if capitalism once again trumps individual rights, common sense, and reality. Without rigorous deconstruction here, it seems to me that companies who perform genetic research do not have to “patent human DNA” to make money. (sounds ridiculous doesn’t it) I know companies like Myriad Genetics want to and probably think it is most efficient to make money that way, but I do not believe that.
For curiosity’s sake, I will do some research on business models and post a hopefully not to dry and nerdy analysis on how this business could work.
Here is another thought, naive though it may be, how about there is scientific research that is done for the public good and researchers make money on specific applications by Big Pharma, medical corporations, and other enterprises that directly use the research to make products. That would be Open Source and Creative Common for genetic research. Unfortunately, they ain’t gonna do that.
This Op-Ed from WaPo (not the most progressive paper in the world) makes a good case for why Myriad Genetics “patents on human genes” should be invalidated.