Do We Own Our Own Germs?: Ethics and Law in Research
From the current New York Times Sunday Review: IMAGINE a scientist gently swabs your left nostril with a Q-tip and finds that your nose contains hundreds of species of bacteria. That in itself is no surprise; each of us is home to some 100 trillion microbes. But then she makes an interesting discovery: in your nose is a previously unknown species that produces a powerful new antibiotic . Her university licenses it to a pharmaceutical company; it hits the market and earns hundreds of millions of dollars. Do you deserve a cut of the profits?
In on ongoing legal challenge to the patent law which allows isolated human genes to be patented and which was previously overturned, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit of the United States returned a ruling earlier this year that these genes were not simply a product of nature, which would not be eligible for a patent, but indeed could be patented. So..who has the legal rights to that rare and valuable germ growing in your nose or that gene which was part of your body but the one that was recovered and used for, as an example, a genetic test for cancer? And beyond the law.. what are the ethics? What is the good vs bad, what is the right vs the wrong?