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Patent System Fosters Eugenics - What Next?

USA TODAY ran a provocative article yesterday (April 26, 2011) on the “dark past” of the respected journal Annals of Human Genetics, in which its editor, Andres Linares did a mea culpa for the role of the journal, founded in 1925 and then called Annals of Eugenics, in promoting racial purity and preventing inferior races and social classes from reproducing. I was startled to find that the patent system was tied into the story as a part of “modern genetics today [that] still suffers from the same blind spots that fostered eugenics.” Along with the evils of “[s]tudies that ascribe genes to explain complex character traits” that are promoted by geneticists, are:

“Scientists seeking patent rights over their patient’s genes, a hotly contested area of current law because of the argument patent rights don’t extend to natural products.”

Apart from the fact that this could have been taken from an ACLU Myriad press release, what does the patent system have to do with eugenics? A better choice for criticism might have been: Scientists seeking to develop therapies for genetic disorders by introducing repaired DNA into a patient’s genome – although the “gene therapies” under trial  today are not experiments in eugenics, any more than is patenting a “healthy” or a “defective” gene. But, to borrow from  David Letterman, I wouldn’t give the patent system’s problems to a monkey on a rock.

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