Friday, 8 April 2011

The Ethics of Patenting Gene Therapy and Life Saving Drugs

In today’s world of intellectual rights and corporate patents, one often wonders whether perhaps special consideration should be made for essential life saving drugs and gene therapy. Should for example, anti AIDS vaccinations be patented, if at all a successful vaccination is discovered? A Patent on such a vaccination would prevent poor Nations and poor people from benefitting from this discovery. Shouldn’t a distinction be made between the patenting of life saving drugs and other industrial patents? Today we have started talking about stem cell research. Suppose a new discovery is made about the method of developing an organ from stem cells, would it be ethical to patent it so that only the rich might benefit from it?

Suppose scientists identify a particular gene in a specific individual which fights ageing or cancer, can the particular gene be patented? Or can the process of isolating this gene be patented? Suppose a scientist identifies particular gene that is found only in me, and he patents this particular gene, does it prevent other scientists from isolating this gene by extracting it from me? Does this patent mean that he can stop me any where and try to extract samples from me? If the law says that the scientist owns the patent to my genes which have the property of fighting cancer, then does this ownership of the patent, in any way curb my freedom?

The possibilities and thoughts raised above are no doubt frightening! God forbid that the above scenario should ever take place, but the possibilities are always there! What then should be the ethics of Patenting Gene Therapy and Life Saving Drugs? It is quite true that a huge amount of money and valuable resources including time are spent in medical research, but then shouldn’t the benefits filter down to those people who really need the fruits of medical research? After all human beings are not machines, they are individuals with feelings, aspirations, hopes and the will to live! My final questions are: Does science give us the right to patent life ? Does the law give the right to patent Human Genes?


  1. So how many effevtive drugs and therapies have been created by non profit organisations?