Genetic patenting – Donna Dickenson

In an article first published  by Project Syndicate ( ) and reprinted in the 27th of Feb edition of Gulf Times, Donna Dickenson,  looks at a case in which American critics of genetic patenting are arguing in court that under  First Amendment, which protects freedoms such as speech and religion, “patents restrict patients’ freedom of access to information that might enable us to take action to protect our health”.

That is a clever argument, but is it really the source of people’s profound disquiet about genetic patenting? In talking about similar issues raised in my recent book Body Shopping, I have heard many shocked reactions to the growing commodification of human tissue, but none more generally shared than this one: how can you take out a patent on life?


But what about a gene that has not left my body? Don’t I somehow still “own” it? Don’t I have rights of control over my own body? How can a commercial firm not only deny me the right to know my own genetic profile unless I pay their fee for the diagnostic test, which might be fair enough, but also to prevent any other firm from offering me a similar test unless those firms pay it a license fee?

Proprietary rights for commercial firms over the most basic element of an individual’s genetic identity should not be enforceable. We do not have to believe in genetic determinism to find that argument compelling.

It is a pity that all of this is tucked away in obscure journals.


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