Sunday, November 17, 2013

US Supreme Court bans patenting of “naturally occuring genes”

In the United States, at least, human genes as they naturally occur in cells in human beings are not patentable. However, synthetic DNA remains subject to patenting.

So-called cDNA, or complementary DNA, as altered genes not found in nature are commonly referred to, are a lucrative business for biotech companies. Worth billions of dollars, these processes are vital to the improvement of the human condition. As they are not naturally-occurring, it seems only fair that the companies that created them should be allowed to patent their own proprietary process.

This landmark ruling should usher in an era of reduced cost to consumers for such medical treatments, as well as providing for more innovation as access to the entire human genome will be universal for biotech companies desiring to break into this market.

But more importantly, this is a statement of ethics. We all want medical technology to improve, but this technology should be within reach of every human being who requires it. To treat life and death as a commercial commodity shows the highest form of cynicism and contempt for human life.

The medical biotech industry did not invent the human genome, therefore, they should not be allowed to patent it peicemeal. Their industrious innovation should not come at the expense of the human beings whose genomes provided the raw material for their manipulation.

For now, we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the very substance at the molecular level that makes us who we are cannot be ruthlessly exploited for profit and kept from us by corporate greed. At least until the next breakthrough challenges our ethics.

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