In class this week, we discussed politics in health, meaning who has power when in comes to aspects of health and medicine. I found the following video and thought that it was a great example of a company’s power over the health of many and how the government has control over this.
In this video, the speaker discusses her journey with the ACLU to make it illegal for businesses to patent human genes. That means that it was once allowed for a company to use an individual’s extracted DNA, isolate a gene, and patent it. This patent prevented other companies and care providers from using this gene, testing for risks, and creating cures. The Supreme Court had previously stated in 1980 that “The laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have been held not patentable…Such discoveries are manifestations of nature, free to all men and exclusively to none.” This being said, why did the federal government allow its own Patent and Trademark Office to issue patents that go against this ruling? Luckily, this is no longer the case. When the ACLU presented their case to the Supreme Court, it was ruled 9:0 that “a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible.”
In class, we talked about HeLa cells and watched a clip about an author who wrote about the story of Henrietta Lacks, her cells, and her family. I thought to myself, it is a shame that her family is living a lower-class lifestyle when they should be profiting from the medical breakthroughs thanks to HeLa cells. How can others profit from her cells if they are not allowed to patent them? Shouldn’t the sale of these “immortal” cells benefit the owner of the cell’s themselves? These ethical questions may never be fully answered due to the power of certain groups in the health industry.