Last month, pro-lifers received good news when the United States placed a permanent ban on patents on human embryos. President Obama signed the prohibition into law in September as part of a patent-reform measure titled the “America Invents Act.” Embryo-patent bans had been included in appropriations bills since 2003. However, they had to be renewed every fiscal year. The signing of this bill achieves the important goal of codifying this ban into permanent law.
The commodification of human life has always been an important philosophical concern for pro-lifers. However, this ban serves an important practical purpose as well. There was always the concern that biotechnology companies that engage in embryonic-stem-cell research might attempt to patent embryonic-stem-cell lines. By preventing the patents of human embryos, Congress was able to take some of the profit motive out of both embryonic-stem-cell research and human cloning.
This ban could not have come at a better time. This past March, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), which engages in embryonic-stem-cell research, was granted a patent for what it calls its “single-blastomere technique” for generating human embryonic-stem-cell lines. In an article published in Nature in 2006, ACT claims that this technique can create embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo itself. However, in actuality, the article indicates that all of the embryos used in the experiments had actually been destroyed. There is good evidence that this technique harms or damages human embryos.
Overall, the Beltway pro-life movement deserves credit for seeing to it that the American Invents Act, which updates a number of patent and trademark laws, included a ban on the patents of human embryos.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.