Scientists are developing bio-engineered organs, water was discovered on Mars, and a man jumped from 24 miles in the stratosphere back to Earth. Science and discovery are peaking; science and discovery are, put simply, American.
And what are we doing as the technology of 2013 promises an even better sequel to 2012’s year of discovery? Patenting human genes.
Already about 4,000 of the 22, 000 human genes have U.S. patents, but Myriad Genetics Inc. is requesting patents for its discovery of two crucial genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. The constitutionality of patenting human genes is a case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this year. If deemed constitutional, only researchers affiliated with Myriad Genetics will be able to study and work with those patented genes.
All political and ethical concerns aside, there is something rather troubling about restricting the research on such a scientific gem. When did it become acceptable for scientists to consider their discoveries as economic commodities? Or treat their knowledge like the popular toy on the playground that little kids refuse to share?
Scientists have been expanding off each others’ work for ages, and now that we have superior technological resources at our disposal, we want to limit the study of something as naturally occurring as DNA. The patenting of genes would create problems not only for the scientific community, but for cancer patients and, sooner or later, for the everyday American.
Information useful to developing medicines and treatments – not to mention cures – for threatening diseases could all rest on the sliver of DNA being patented by Myriad Genetics Inc. and the U.S. government.
The more brilliant minds have access to this kind of genetic information, the closer science comes to making life-saving discoveries. I fear that determining gene patenting to be constitutional would set a dangerous precedent for future cases and would set a roadblock on ingenuity.
Obviously, companies have to make money, and research is expensive, but I cannot think of a more sickening, self-seeking way to make a buck than by sticking a price tag on information that could save thousands of lives down the road. It upsets me to think that some corporations have little understanding of the social responsibility that rests on their shoulders.
Research companies cradle the future of medicine and technology in their palms. If America plans to legally restrict scientific creativity with patents, I honestly cannot point my finger to a sadder example of the dollar sign taking precedence over the welfare of society.
Maybe this is the idealist in me speaking again, but I hope all people can recognize that their jobs and their societal contributions are ultimately about more than the amount inscribed on their paychecks.