Develop an outline
- Briefly state a clear position on the moral question presented.
- List relevant facts of the case.
- Identify clarifying concepts you will use to analyze the case.
- Describe an ethical standard pertinent to the case.
Case Study: Business Ethics/CSR
Patenting Genetically Engineered Life Forms (4)
In 1873, Louis Pasteur received a U.S. patent for the manufacture of a yeast that was free of disease. The first patent in the United States for a genetically engineered life form was granted in 1980 when the Supreme Court, in Diamond vs Chakrabarty, held that a human-created micro-organism was a new and useful “manufacture,” and hence patentable. Since then, more than three million genome-related patents have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), some of which cover genetically engineered humans. The year 2007 marked the first application for a patent for an artificial, human-created life-form, a microbe.Despite the legal status of biopatents, there is still considerable controversy about the morality of the practice. Canada does not permit patents for “higher life forms,” such as the OncoMouse. China, India, and Thailand prohibit the patenting of any animal. The European Union only permits such patents “provided the potential benefits of the ‘invention’ outweigh the ethical and moral considerations, in particular the suffering of animals.”People who favor biopatents argue that researchers should be rewarded for their discoveries. People would not put the money and years into genetic research unless they had some mechanism for protecting their inventions and investment through patents. Those who are against it question the assumption that science will advance faster if researchers can have exclusive rights to their inventions. They also point out that the monopoly on certain products and the high royalty costs owed to patent holders may discourage product development, since the high costs would be passed on to the consumer, as is currently happening in the pharmaceutical industry. Finally, there is the question of whether it is moral to patent a part of nature or to own life forms.Myriad Genetics currently holds a patent on two human genes that have been linked to breast cancer. Religious leaders have called for a moratorium on the patenting of life-forms because they believe to grant patents on animal or plant genomes is to usurp the “ownership rights of God.”Choose one of the following questions:
- Question 1: Do humans have an inalienable right to ownership of their body and is the patenting of individual human genes a violation of human dignity?
- Question 2: Should companies hold patents on mammals or chimera (animals created with human DNA to make their organs harvestable and compatible with human DNA)?