Letter: Safeguards on patenting of genes

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The Independent Online
Safeguards on patenting of genes

Sir: The religious leaders' objections to the European directive on the protection of biotechnological inventions are misguided (letter, 14 July).

The directive allows the patenting of genes (sequences of DNA which code for proteins). These in no way constitute "life", as your correspondents seem to think. They are just chemicals. If genes are life, and that is all we are, what place is there for our "souls", which they presumably propose we have?

They ignore the fact that a large number of patients' groups representing people suffering from genetic conditions support the directive, as the only way to encourage investment in tests and treatments for diseases they suffer from.

If patenting is not allowed, then trade secrecy will ensue. It is that which will restrict communication between companies, not patenting. The point of a patent is that an inventor can go public, safe in the knowledge that their intellectual property is safe and their investment protected.

It is ethically inept to regard patent law as the forum for regulation of genetic technologies. What is needed is separate, well-thought-out restrictions on the research and application of the new genetics, not a ham-fisted combination of patent law and theology.


Centre for Professional Ethics

University of Central Lancashire