Thursday, February 9, 2012

Will Your Children Own Their Genes?

The completion of the Human Genome Project was greeted with much enthusiasm and many hopes for a bright future pregnant with new possibilities. Currently incurable diseases would be detected early enough and would be prevented before they developed. Damaged organs would be replaced with brand new cloned organs perfectly compatible with our bodies as these organs would be specially grown out of our own stem cells. Our children would be healthier and would live longer. The possibilities in the horizon seemed endless. Some even believed that one day we would even defeat death and would perhaps beat God in his own game.
Over the past forty years, genes have gradually gained a new value as the raw resources or the building blocks of an already happening biotech revolution that has been penetrating virtually every industry in the world markets. Those who have been involved in the race of deciphering the genetic code of life forms on this planet have also been part of a more vicious race of acquiring patents and intellectual property rights.
Although the ethical challenges posed by the biotech revolution are still being debated, patents on biotechnological inventions on living matter, such as genetically modified seeds, micro-organisms, genes, tissues, cell lines and many other components of life are now a reality. This double-edged sword has created a dilemma. On one hand, it is imperative to form a healthy balance between the interests of the inventor and the society via a social contract, such as a patent, which should also encourage scientific progress and a safe platform for the continuation of future inventions. On the other hand, such patents closely related to life and healthcare, under the strict control of a small group of corporate entities, worry many people, who clearly understand that in the near future one will have to pay royalties or will have no access to certain healthcare services.
In many hospitals today, patients, who need to have certain tests done to see if they have a specific gene or a genetic disposition for certain diseases, have to pay a royalty fee to the patent-holding company for that specific gene being scanned. For many, having to pay a "fee" to have a "gene scan" of "their own genes" is unacceptable. Although the medical technology will soon have the capacity to screen thousands of genes and genetic predispositions in the near future, offering a vast selection of new cures and solutions to various diseases, there is also no doubt that some will use patens to literally extort money from those of us in need of a cure.
If you are diagnosed with a rare cancer and need to be treated with a special type of protein that facilitates the growth of a certain anticancer agent, do not be surprised if you find out that you have to pay a chunky royalty to a company that you have never heard of. You no longer have any rights over your genes or your "own body tissues" as "somebody else" has already claimed the intellectual rights to "your" body parts "without" your consent or knowledge.
In the future, we all will have to pay our dues to a syndicate of biotech elites to have access to our own genetic heritage. Life has finally become a commodity that is tradable, inheritable and also extremely profitable.