- Aug 3, 2006
Volume Seven; in which I determine the most deleterious aspect of capitalism
Gene patenting is very real, and it has been happening for years.
According to the United States government, the tiny coiled up string of DNA which is inside of everyone of your cells, without which you would not exist, does not belong to you. It belongs to some pharmaceutical corporation.
A corporation takes out a patent on your name. Now, if you ever write or speak your own name, you owe that corporation money. If you introduce yourself to someone new, sign a document, or send an e-mail with your name as the sender, you owe them money, and they get to decide how much. Or if they wanted, they could say you can't use it at all. If you do, you could be sued and ultimately jailed for violating the law, because they have a valid patent.
In reality, even if that happened, you can always change your name or use a different one. You can't change you genes. They are more personal to you than your fingerprints or retina patterns.
More importantly, they hold clues to diagnosis, and some day potentially cure, of all sorts of genetically related diseases including cancer and heart disease. Not only could this be important for you one day as an individual, but gene patenting prevents any company or individual from even doing research on the "patented" gene except the patenting company. If the company which first took out the patent on a particular gene chooses not to do research, the research doesn't get done.
In fact, 20% of your genes have been patented already.
Legally, you can not learn your own gene sequence without the approval - and fees - of dozens of different pharmaceutical and biotech corporations and companies.
Although this is the most extreme example, the fact is that the very concept of patenting puts profit of the wealthy above the advancement of humanity. It slows the advancement of technology, because when one person comes up with a good idea, no one else can build upon it without paying them.
Imagine if Leonardo DaVinci, Galileo, or Pasture had to deal with patent laws like the ones we have today. Einstein and the Curries did not work so they could become billionaires; they worked because of interest in science.
Imagine if fire, the wheel, the bow and arrow, clothing, bread, were patented. Someone had to come up with these things, but they spread, and were improved upon through out all of humanity ultimately to the benefit of everyone.
If corporations will not research medical advancement without profit as an incentive, then it should be taken over, like all other aspects of societal benefit with no profit to be made, by the government.
That is the one thing government is actually good for - providing those things to society which can not be sustained through the free market economy, like roads, fire departments, the military, weather satellites, social security, public schools, mosquito abatement - things which don't produce any profit but which are necessary to have a complex society and all the comforts and conveniences we take for granted. These are things which we all agree everyone should have access to, even if they aren't wealthy, like school and emergency health care. Having unrestricted access to your own genetic make-up should be a basic human right; it should go without saying.
On the other hand, having unrestricted profit should not be a basic human right. No one ever earns billions of dollars. Earns - as in: actually makes it through their own personal hard work and ingenuity. Marketing, patents, monopolies, and government contracts through bribes and corruption don't count as earning any more than robbery does. Yes, you CAN make money those ways, but no individual would willingly pay you for it, because it offers no benefit to them.
We as a society need to realize the difference and decide if we really wish to allow our leaders (both the government and the CEOs) to prioritize their own profits over the betterment of life for all.