We are all living under a misconception we decide our lives and own our bodies while the opposite is true.
The law decides our lives.
Our bodies may belong to us, but the law also governs the genetic code that creates us.
Patent Law and not the shared, necessary, Common Law of Universal Humanity rule our genes.
In a riveting Op-Ed piece in this week’s New York Times, author and creative Genius Michael Crichton — Jurassic Park, ER, etc. — broke our hearts the day before Valentine’s Day with the following news:
Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000. Why?Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldn’t somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitor’s test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you can’t even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but it’s now private property….
Humans share mostly the same genes. The same genes are found in other animals as well. Our genetic makeup represents the common heritage of all life on earth. You can’t patent snow, eagles or gravity, and you shouldn’t be able to patent genes, either. Yet by now one-fifth of the genes in your body are privately owned.
We’re in this mess because, as Crichton brightly explains, the United States Patent office make a mistake in understanding previous Supreme Court decisions and applied Patent Law protections to scientific discoveries in our genetic code.
20 percent of the genes in our bodies are currently owned by research companies — not by us — and that means private companies may collect millions of dollars in patent access research fees from other scientists who wish to investigate the genomes.
If you take a test, and a company owns the genome being tested, the results of your test — as well as your tissue — belongs to the company and not you. The company does not need your permission to keep those bits of your body and the company can do further research using your tissue to propagate profit for their genome patent without reimbursing you or acknowledging your participation.
Like the Dinosaur at the door waiting to eat you alive for your failure to predict future genetic attacks, Crichton reveals the truth of this unfortunate patenting of the map of the human body:
The results have been disastrous. Ordinarily, we imagine patents promote innovation, but that’s because most patents are granted for human inventions. Genes aren’t human inventions, they are features of the natural world. As a result these patents can be used to block innovation, and hurt patient care.For example, Canavan disease is an inherited disorder that affects children starting at 3 months; they cannot crawl or walk, they suffer seizures and eventually become paralyzed and die by adolescence.
Formerly there was no test to tell parents if they were at risk. Families enduring the heartbreak of caring for these children engaged a researcher to identify the gene and produce a test. Canavan families around the world donated tissue and money to help this cause. When the gene was identified in 1993, the families got the commitment of a New York hospital to offer a free test to anyone who wanted it.
But the researcher’s employer, Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute, patented the gene and refused to allow any health care provider to offer the test without paying a royalty. The parents did not believe genes should be patented and so did not put their names on the patent.
Consequently, they had no control over the outcome…. The plain truth is that gene patents aren’t benign and never will be. When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it — because of patent concerns. There is no clearer indication that gene patents block innovation, inhibit research and put us all at risk.
The only way we can protect our bodies from the financial interests of the world conglomerates is to reunify our understanding that all natural things — the sun, the wind, the rain and the rest of things found in nature — equally belong to everyone and can only be shared and shall never be owned by anything, anyone or any entity.
There is work afoot in the political process to limit future genome profiteering by returning our genetic code to the ownership of each of us, but everything that has already been patented and branded and put away for future use will still be out of the sling of the public domain and will solidly remain in the crook of the private interests — and we’re all cheaper and less healthy for honoring the provenance of that scientific secrecy and for abiding restricted access to existing research.
We each deserve the right to freely fight the Dinosaur banging on our door.