I've done a lot of reading (and documentary watching) over the past year on genetic engineering, mostly that associated with plants. I've felt outrage at companies like Monsanto who's worked unscrupulously to own the rights to our food. And I've felt saddened by our loss of biodiversity and the hardships that have fallen upon our farmers because of this.
In all of this research I keep hearing the cry that the patenting of genes in plants could give way to the patenting of genes in humans, which is a very slippery slope. What I didn't know is there are over 10,000 human genes (roughly 20%) that have already been patented. (Where have I been???)
That's right. Your body may not be 100% your own.
Somewhere out there a biotech company may own a small part of your body. A part that, if something goes wrong, they won't allow anyone else to look at, or fix. I hope you can afford what they're charging to fix you up. I hope they know how to fix you up.
Until recently, when the ACLU won a case challenging the patent of two "breast cancer genes", this was a reality for many women facing breast cancer. A company called Myriad owned the patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 and anything related to them, including the BRAC (Be Ready Against Cancer) Analysis test that determines if a women is predisposed to breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Say a woman found that she has breast cancer and, subsequently, wants to know if she is likely to get ovarian cancer as well. Because this is determined by the BRCA genes, she could only go through Myriad to get that testing done. No second opinions are available because no one else is allowed to look at, test, or do research on the gene. And, even though most insurance companies cover this testing, Myriad does not accept most insurance. If she wants to know whether or not she should have her ovaries removed as a preventative measure, she has to pay $3,000+ for it out of pocket...just for the test.
If you have a few minutes, I really encourage you to watch this 60 Minutes clip which thoroughly explains the conundrum...
The fact that the ACLU won this case against the US Patent Office and Myriad Genetics is a step in the right direction. Not only does it revoke these two particular patents, but it brings into question the validity of thousands of other patents.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Myriad has announced it's plans to appeal the decision and it is likely that this case will end up in the Supreme Court.