Is it wrong to own a patent on a living thing? For now, laws and regulations say it’s acceptable, much to the dismay of others. For instance, bio-ethicists claim that if private businesses own the rights to certain genes, they could monopolize medical treatments and research could be limited. So essentially, would those monopolies be deciding who lives, and who dies?
One example of this arises in the 2009 Myriad case, where several pathologists and doctors complained that the patents on the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 prevented patients from receiving any second opinions on their test results. This is because other doctors wouldn't have access to these genes, thus preventing the pathologists from carrying out routine diagnostic tests.
It all started in 1980 with the court case Diamond v. Chakrabarty
, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the first patent on a man-made, yet living organism. This organism was a bacterium that was created to digest crude oil, and was to be used in oil spills
. When the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the patent because it was a living organism, Chakrabarty immediately appealed. The general rule was that if it came from nature, it could not be patented. However, because it was "man-made" through genetic engineering, that rule did not apply to this case. The Supreme Court eventually allowed Chakrabarty's modified organism to be patent protected.
A more diabolical scenario took place for John Moore, who had developed hairy-cell leukemia
. When his doctor, Dr. David Golde, explained to Moore that he absolutely needed surgery in order to survive, he accepted that as “fact” and underwent the surgery. After his 22 pound spleen was removed, Moore was periodically summoned by Dr. Golde from Alaska to Los Angeles for periodic tests, where Golde would take samples of his blood and semen. Dr. Golde explained to Moore that these tests were necessary in order to rule out any chance of his cancer recurring.
But behind the scenes, Golde had actually taken a patent out on Moore's spleen and many other tissues found on it. He used the money from that patent to design a huge laboratory, which was backed by Sandoz Corporation, a pharmaceutical company. By the time Moore and his lawyer found out what Golde was up to, it was much too late; Dr. Golde had already made millions off the patents.
The big problem here, according to many health professionals, is that universities, pharmaceutical companies and individual doctors are developing very close relationships
. . . which could prove disastrous in time. If a company owns the rights to a gene, or even just a small genetic sequence, any other company that needs that specific gene to further their research would have to pay whatever price the patent owners set. People are rallying against this "patenting of life," but unfortunately it seems as though the controversy does not have any foreseeable conclusion.