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Is the Patenting of Genes Ethical?

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When examining whether or not something is ethical, one must consider if the act (or individual involved) can advance or regress the lives and welfare of the people.  But, when economics are involved, the examination of ethics becomes much more difficult in a capitalistic society that is driven by innovation and profit. Thus, when dealing with the patenting of genes, it is imperative that we examine it through three primary lenses: The humanitarian, scientific, and economic point of views. From a humanitarian and scientific viewpoint, patenting genes does not exemplify the welfare of us all, because it may hinder medical advancements and scientific findings of others. From an economic scope, the profits that institutions and corporations such as Myriad Genetics makes off a person’s DNA is not only unethical but, does not outweigh the welfare of the people.

Scientifically, as well as from a humanitarian standpoint, patenting genes should be deemed unethical because it stagnates the development and innovation for furthering treatment, cures and the early detection of diseases for millions. According to global cancer statistics, cancer is the leading cause of death in economically developed countries and the second leading cause of death in developing countries (“Global cancer statistics.” 2011).

Of course, we as Americans have a lot more access to resources, research, and funding than many other under developed countries do not have. If these less fortunate countries have innovative ideas and developments that may assist in cures and medical advancements, shouldn’t we welcome their knowledge and expertise? One can never predict the scientific discoveries or advancements that we could inhibit by allowing an institution to monopolize a person’s gene. Not only is this unethical, but it puts us all at a disadvantage because it blocks the opportunity for outside institutions to access the DNA and possibly make a revolutionary finding and/or medical advancement that could benefit us all.

From an economic aspect, allowing an institution to patent genes is fairly similar to a business monopolizing over a particular good and/or service. Like with most goods in the United States, we put the consumer at risk when we allow a corporation to capitalize on a particular good. Monopolization often leads to a lack of innovation, minimal suppliers, and high prices; and unfortunately, the patent of genes has had a similar effect on the health industry. As stated in the article, Myriad charges about $3000 for testing, while hundreds of clinical laboratories nationwide could do it for less than $200 (Rosenfeld & Mason, 2013). Who is to say that the average person can afford to pay $3000 for a particular DNA test? And for those who cannot, should they not have access to the possibility of a life changing result, simply because they cannot afford to pay the inflated price that Myriad Genetics is allowed to charge because of the government’s lack of regulations? Ultimately, if the constitution states that we have a right to privacy, as well as property, we should also have the right to profit off that which is our personal property, our DNA.



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