Streams

Patenting the Human Body

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Harriet Washington explains the “life patent” gold rush and why she thinks it will have harmful, and even lethal, consequences for public health. The United States Patent Office has granted at least 40,000 patents so far on genes controlling the most basic processes of human life. In Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself—and the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future she examines the legal, ethical, and social bases for pharmaceutical companies’ position that such patents are necessary.

Guests:

Harriet Washington
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [24]

'How can anyone own my genes?'
The answer is NO.
What someone can “own” is a DNA sequence that he was the first to isolate and for which he found some use for diagnosis or therapy.

Oct. 28 2011 12:44 AM

This woman is confused. A person who discovers a new function of a known DNA sequence, such as its previously unknown association with particular disease, can patent the isolated sequence to detect susceptibility to that disease. Isolated DNA sequences do not occur in nature. They are new. Humans do NOT contain isolated genes. So you cannot patent a human.

Oct. 28 2011 12:39 AM

The cost of developing a drug and getting it approved are extensive. Today's guest painted a very skewed picture of the time and cost of producing a drug and falsely categorized some drugs as "everyday" drugs and others as not. If consumers are willing to pay more for "better" cars, french fries and schools, why should they not pay for "better" drugs? Why should the cost of discovering, developing and getting a therapy to market be "free"? Are we all entitled to a Lexus because it's better?

Oct. 27 2011 08:14 PM
Taher from Croton

There is nothing to worry about here our corrupt Supreme Court works hand in glove with major pharma. So the ruling will favor them. Business as usual in a plantation called America.

Oct. 27 2011 12:43 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Another point that requires bearing: YOU CAN SUE the pharm company if it does do harm to you, if that side effect was not clearly stated in advance. So big class law suits, which lawyers s thrive on, is a check on pharm-gone-wild that should also be mentioned.

Oct. 27 2011 12:39 PM
William from Manhattan

Some of the claims about medical apartheid seem to be based on old data and old practices. Research in tropical medicines is very strong, with support & collaboration from Gates Foundation, Earth Institute, OneWorld Health, Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, just to name a few.

Oct. 27 2011 12:38 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I think the guest said patents have to be on things that are "novel & useful." If it's useful, then it's not worthless, right?

Of course, if anyone brings a case on this basis, I'm sure the language in the form will be changed....

Oct. 27 2011 12:37 PM

Korporations™ are people, too!!

Oct. 27 2011 12:36 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Selling snake oil is nothing new in America, only we don't tar and feather the snake oil peddlers as was once the case!

Alas, with so much of American industry decimated, we hold on to the pharm and casinos and other flim flam industries that still are able to employ people.

I really doubt there is much that can be done. In the 1950s we had other industries to emply people, and today we are left with the flim flam industries based on suckers being born every minute.

The FDA today cannot ban a drug if it does no harm, even if it does not good, as long as the possible side effects are clearly enunciated to the public. The efficacy of a drug is no longer the major criteria, but only if it does no harm - with the potential harm it can do being clearly stated up front.

Oct. 27 2011 12:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I thought the anti-facial-hair drug was originally developed to cure river blindness (rather than sleeping sickness), & that selling it to women to get rid of their facial hair helped keep it on the market, & keep it available to the people in Africa who had the parasite that causes river blindness. Is that not happening?

Oct. 27 2011 12:32 PM

Aw, c'mon!!!

Big Pharma™ needs $$, too!

People... schmeeple!!

Oct. 27 2011 12:26 PM
John A.

I missed a step (busy). Thought I heard that patents have to be on inventions. Then heard 'patenting human genes'. Surely no-one claims to have invented humans?
(The absurd tone I use here is of course not directed at Ms.Washington but rather her target.)

Oct. 27 2011 12:25 PM
Molly from nyc

Reminds me of Monsanto's patents on seeds, thereby affecting our food supply. I just don't understand how consciously, the courts allows for this.

Oct. 27 2011 12:24 PM
Popejon from Ridge, NY

Patent fees are minimal at the final cost of a patent. Lawyer's fee's are astronomical if you don't do the patent search your self. How does Lawyer's profits for patent searches fit into this?

Oct. 27 2011 12:23 PM
robert from manhattan

Can a person patent their own genes before the medical community steals them from the person?

Oct. 27 2011 12:23 PM

Go Korporate "Medicine"®!!!

Oct. 27 2011 12:22 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Could a patient make a case that s/he signed away the right only to "worthless" tissues, & the ones that were patented aren't covered by that because they're not worthless?

Oct. 27 2011 12:20 PM
Alan from Elmont NY

If patents are held on cells, genes, or DNA structures, in your body, can you sue that patent holder if you develop a disease related to that cell or gene?

Oct. 27 2011 12:20 PM
Hugh Sansom

Two hundred years ago, people claimed the right to own entire human beings.

Now, Wall Street, Harvard, etc., claim the right to own all the constituent parts that add up to a human.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, Mitt Romney, and others extend the rights of corporations as persons.

How long before We the People are deemed Non-Persons, wholly-owned by patent-holder corporations which will be the True Persons in the Orwellian United States?

Oct. 27 2011 12:19 PM
Michelle from nyc

UH! Another reason for Occupy Wall St protests. It's all about global, corporate shareholder profits off the backs of everyday people. Courts and policy makers are often ex-execs of these corporations.

Oct. 27 2011 12:17 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Sounds like the arguments the companies use for doing embryonic stem cell research - to stop it would hold back research.

Oct. 27 2011 12:15 PM
Fuva from Harlemworld

I looove this woman. What critical research.

Oct. 27 2011 12:14 PM
brian

Can we patent ourselves?

Oct. 27 2011 12:11 PM
Ed from Larchmont

The EU made a very good step recently in refusing to patent certain cells, so the research isn't driven by massive profits, for one thing.

Oct. 27 2011 08:23 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.