Thursday, March 29, 2012

Supreme Court Rules, Human Genes are NOT Property, Therefore Cannot Be Patented

In a landmark decision Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that patents belonging to Myriad Genetics on genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, must be overturned. At stake was the idea that a company could isolate a human gene and patent it, a practice allowed for more than 30 years by the US Patent Office. But in a stunning decision by our highest court, the court ruled that simply isolating a gene does not diverge enough from what is natural law. The high court sent the case back to the lower courts to have them argue it out further.

Myriad like many companies who do this kind of work like to make the argument that patents are rewards for the research, and money that goes into this kind of work. The problem with this argument is that all the research in the world can go into deciphering the origins of universal mathematics, that doesn't mean that if you discover why Pi is so prevalent in the universe you get to claim ownership on it.

Human genes are units of hereditary code contained on the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule. Nothing about that statement should suggest to you in any way that any person or entity could own it. In fact, the existence of DNA predates the existence of human life on this planet, therefore making it impossible for a company to claim such ownership. Claiming ownership on something completely based on the idea that you have isolated it, is a ridiculous argument. If I cut into a cherry pie, and isolate one single cherry from the pie, this doesn't give me the right to ownership, and neither does it give the ownership rights of any company to something contained in DNA. If we allow companies to claim ownership to DNA, then what is stopping them from owning the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the dirt we walk upon. Next, companies will claim they own a particular star in the sky and require a license each time someone looks at it.

Arguing that time and money were spent on isolating a gene, grants them the right to a patent is also a ridiculous argument, but one that at face value seems valid. After all, many of us who work hard expect to be paid for the work we do, why shouldn't these companies also be paid? Everyone likes to be paid, however, when work is predatory in nature, payment shouldn't be granted for this work. What I mean by this is, that these drug and research companies fund these projects not to help people, in fact, based entirely on the record most of these companies have in regards to this practice, the solid motivation for this work is profiteering. Drug companies invest a lot of time and money into making a product that most of the public will never use, because they cannot afford to. Let's say a drug company invests a few million dollars into developing a drug that solves the problem of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). More than 60 million Americans alone are affected by this disease, making it a very profitable industry. So the drug company has invested a few million dollars into this product, and they release it to market at the staggering cost of $300 a bottle, that's $300 for 30 pills or $10 a pill. Now let's say only 20% of Americans can afford this, either by purchasing the product outright or having insurance subsidize it. That means the company will have made over 3 billion dollars in profits. Now of course, predatory companies like our drug industry know that there is no money in curing a disease, after all, a healthy person is someone who doesn't need to take drugs. So these companies do not develop drugs with the intention of actually curing anything, but rather treating it. This gives them a stream of revenue that will last them the rest of  your life. The fact is, that even with insurance, the premium cost to a consumer on a $300 bottle of pills can be $60, which many Americans cannot afford. However, because most people would rather choose taking a pill to suppress acid production in their stomach, than purchase the foods that might cause this production of acid, most people would choose being hungry over being sick. So many Americans starve to pay for the medicine they need to survive. And I'm only talking about GERD here, many other people suffer from diseases that are much worse, with costs that are much higher to treat. The individuals running these companies have forgotten the old adage that, “good deeds are their own reward.”

In closing, there is no reason to allow these drug companies to patent human genes, they are already allowed to patent the drugs that treat the diseases that come from these abnormal genes, therefore it is redundant to allow this practice. Patenting nature sets a very bad precedence. In the span of human existence we have over time evolved many times, and it is a certainty we will evolve much more. If allowed, companies will be there, trying to stake ownership on the claim of human evolution, a brilliant discovery made by Charles Darwin, and documented in his 1859 masterpiece, “The Origin of Species, by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” However, these companies should try and learn something from Charles Darwin. Darwin's life's work was not an investment of time made with the intention of gaining riches or fame, but rather with the intention of progress and human understanding. He spent his life working on evolution because an understanding of our origin was more beneficial to humankind, than personal wealth. All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to Charles Darwin, a pioneer in human progress, without whom maybe the work these companies do, might not otherwise be possible.

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. - Charles Darwin

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