Human Exceptionalism

Greenpeace Versus Science/Industrial Complex

Here’s some interesting news: Greenpeace has come out forcefully against the growing Science/Industrial Complex in Germany (which, by the way, has a more “conservative” ESCR policy than the USA). It sued to prevent a German scientist from patenting a process for turning an embryonic stem cell into a nerve cell. The court ruled that anything made from human tissue cannot be patented.

The idea that big corporations should be able to “own” genes and patent human tissues is absurd–and in my view dangerous. But there are two schools of thought. Both are ably presented in this article.

The position against patents: “Greenpeace said that such patents aren’t intended to help research, but only to help make research profitable. ‘We believe there should be a clear separation between research and patenting products. And the court decision affirmed this.’…’When medical treatments can be patented, there is a chance that treatments will be delayed or will cost more,’ said Otmar Kloiber, Chairman of the World Medical Association. He cited a case a few years ago when a breast cancer-suppressing gene was patented. ‘As soon as the patent went through, the price for the treatment skyrocketed so that some insurance companies in the US were no longer able to cover the cost of treatment.’

The position in favor of patents: “Daniel Besser, a stem cell researcher at the Max Delbruck Center in Berlin, takes a different approach. ‘It also costs a lot to develop this technology,’ said Besser. ‘Which branch of the industry can be expected to invest billions in their research and then make the information available for everyone to use for free?'”

This whole issue kicks in my Naderite reflexes. I am very uncomfortable with any corporation or private person “owning” a human body part. The process by which, say a gene can be isolated, yes. The gene itself, no.

This also points the way toward stopping human cloning. If they can’t get patents, they won’t try to clone human organisms. In this regard, I see another opportunity for a left/right strange bedfellow political coalition that might just be effective in preventing the worst abuses of the coming biotech century.


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