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Patented Dna: An Ethical Issue Essay

3028 words - 13 pages

Case Study - Background
In the United States, if someone needs to have a DNA test done, there is a possibility that it has been patented by a DNA research company. The problem with this is that it can raise the cost of a DNA test from about two hundred dollars, to over two thousand, depending on the test being done. Up to forty-one percent of the genes in your body are actually owned by another company, and are not legally owned by yourself. In particular, Myriad Genetics holds a patent in the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 gene, also owning at least fifteen nucleotides of BRCA1. The owning of these genes is significant because a defective BRCA1 gene can make one much more likely to develop breast or ...view middle of the document...

If the gene were patented, they would be the only ones who could work on it, making their future work on the gene protected.
The individuals who would be against DNA patents would mostly be individuals who themselves receive DNA tests, and the majority of the medical community. There are plenty of reasons to be against the notion of patenting genes. One reason is that it raises the cost of DNA tests for individuals, and insurance companies, people possibly not even receiving insurance support due to the high costs of the tests. Furthermore, thousands of scientists, medical organizations, and even Nobel laureates oppose the idea of genetic patenting, and compare it to patenting elements of the periodic table. In addition, patenting DNA would be comparable to the monopolies in early industrial America, because today, one company can own a gene and it cannot be controlled by anyone else but the company who originally acquires it. A notable figure in history, Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, was once asked about his patent for his vaccine. His response was, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Salk used an inactive form of the polio virus in his vaccine, which is a naturally occurring biological form, not a new invention. Patenting it would be similar to today’s DNA patents.
Case Study – History of Bioethics
The patenting of genes, DNA, and other organic material falls into the category of medical ethics, specifically the ethics behind biological patents, or compounds that occur naturally in the world. The history of biological patents in the United States is fairly recent, only becoming an idea in the last century. The first known biological patent in the United States was granted on March 20, 1906, which was for a purified form of adrenaline. This was very controversial, because it was the very first instance in history in which someone attempted to patent something naturally occurring in the human body. The claim to allow the patent to remain was the argument that a purified form of a natural substance was a more useful form than the naturally occurring substance, so it is different from the original in that regard. At this time, medicine was becoming a field in which much was being learned about, from the affect drugs have on human beings, to the use of them to prevent and cure diseases. DNA and gene patents specifically were not an idea at the time, because they were not really discovered yet, simply an idea. In 1869, Friedrich Miescher, a Swiss physiological chemist discovered the substance “nuclein” which was located inside the nuclei of human white blood cells. Nuclein was far from the idea of what DNA is known as today. The term would be changed from nuclein to nucleic acid, and finally to deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, the term used to describe it today. Miescher did not know the structure of DNA and simply knew that something was there, that held a significant purpose in the human body.
Many years following...

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