Recently, I watched the documentary Cracking the Code of Life, which discussed the progress of the Human Genome Project, bioethical questions about genetic research and the legal procedures behind it, and life-threatening genetic disorders. The movie brought about questions about law and genetics that I never thought would even exist, and some of these questions made me reevaluate the whole field of genetics.
One of the main questions posed was whether companies could patent sections of genes that they “discovered” or decoded first. In the beginning, I thought there was no way the government would allow something as universal and natural to life as DNA. (Kind of like claiming that public water is yours, right Nestle? Read my FLOW documentary reflection for more on the rights of water.) That doesn’t even sound right. But kudos to the businessmen and businesswomen that thought to do so. Their plan to patent genes allowed their companies to make big money for drugs and medicine. The idea and creativity of business always baffle me.
Of course, I questioned my opinion after seeing the businessmen’s perspective on the issue of patenting genes. The CEOs of some genetic companies explained that, like roads meant to get people to work and school, the public genetic information was public so that private companies could use the information for its own good. The comparison between the two was to show that public services help private businesses grow and that the economy succeeds because of the services. I thought this was such a great analogy to explain it. I try not to be easily swayed, but sometimes other theories sound so logical, like this one. But as I’ve learned in history class, a lot of theories would work ideally, but don’t factor in ethical problems or haven’t been tested in real-life applications. In this case, lots of ethical problems were involved.
Drug companies have taken advantage of the sick and every ay people who need medicine. The companies charge huge, unrealistic sums of money for people who are willing to pay because there is no other option.The pharmaceutical industry as a whole in this country is a mess, and I might as well add the rest of the health care system because that’s just as relevant. Shouldn’t the government have a little more say in this? (At least that’s my opinion…)
There’s a whole political debate on this, which is, in simple terms, just plain annoying to me. One of the reasons I really like science is the noninvolvement of politics and how straightforward it could be. I know climate change and water distribution have lots to do with the government, but I hate being reminded of it… as naive as that sounds. BUT STILL! How could someone patent and own a section of MY genome? Our human genome? Wasn’t the goal of all of this to help humans develop better medicine? I can never come to the conclusion of whether or not competition, especially in areas like this, is beneficial or not. On one hand, things get done faster, in this case decoding the human genome, but on the other hand, companies take advantage of people like us. Oh, the beauty of capitalism. This debate will never be over.
If you’re into bioethics and genetics, I highly suggest watching the movie on Youtube. It’s free! You can develop your own opinions after watching both sides of the argument.