Ethical Issues: Human Genes Can Be Patented


As we come to the end of the semester, I tried to find an article that encompassed everything that we learned over the semester and I found it quite difficult. The article that I settled on involves an issue of ethics, which is extremely relevant to the second half of the semester. This article struggles with the ethical issue of whether human genes are actually patentable. A company out of Austin, Texas wants to patents their sequenced whole genomes but do not want to caught up in legal issues; the case went all the way to the supreme court. Many people seem to believe that is wrong to patent things like this because it slows technological and medical advances. “It’s as if somebody had a patent on the X-ray images of the pelvic region of a human being, you could administer the test but you wouldn’t be able to tell the patient about that region.” This concept sounds crazy to me and being able to put a patent on a genome feels like your owning something that is not yours. Science is supposed to be shared and used to make life better, not isolated and only available to certain privileged people.

Others believe that company’s should have every right to protect their intellectual property. The estimate for the number of patents on human DNA is around 40 percent! The good news is that a majority of these companies have patents that limit testing in any way. Many of the patents created are no longer enforced because of maintenance fees so whats the point in having one? I believe it all ties into recognition but if you want to read more, click on the link below!

2 thoughts on “Ethical Issues: Human Genes Can Be Patented

  1. Hi Shamika! This is an interesting issue with no easy answers. On the one hand, if gene patenting is going to aid medical research and help people, why not do it? On the other hand, you make a good point, that “being able to put a patent on a genome feels like your owning something that is not yours”. This whole discussion reminded me of the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” – are you familiar with it? Here is an article that talks about Henrietta Lacks and gene patenting:


  2. Oh my! For some reason, I wasn’t quite sure what limitations of gene patenting involved. I agree that doing this would slow advances in science and limit our ability to help patients. It’s a very odd idea. How do you feel about putting an expiration on the patents, like the patents on drugs? Do you think this helps adress the two issues you mentioned?


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