Capitalism is all about the sanctity of ownership.
When you own a pair of jeans, they belong to you for life. If Levi Strauss himself rose from the grave and demanded that you cough up those faded 501s, you’d be within your rights to tell his moldy carcass to bugger off.
Distilled down to the basics, you could conceivably describe American capitalism with a single statement: No one can claim your jeans.
Until today. Because today, an American judge ruled that your genes don’t belong to you.
No, that wasn’t a typo. I’m talking about your GENES…the ones you were born with, the ones that are woven into the fabric of every organ and tissue and cell of your being. The very mechanisms that make you you.
As of today they officially…aren’t…yours.
For years, American biotech companies have been quietly patenting your genes. They do this for one reason: if corporations can be the first to identify a piece of your genetic makeup, they can charge up the you-know-what every time you need to access that snippet of biological info.
In today’s case, the corporation is a sleazy biotech outfit called Myriad and the pieces of genetic information are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. It turns out that when a person’s BRCA genes carry a specific type of mutation, he/she has upwards of an 80% chance of developing breast cancer.
Myriad developed a test for the BRCA gene mutations in 1994, and for almost 20 years they’ve been gleefully charging $3,000 a pop every time a woman needs to find out whether she’s predisposed to a horrible, often fatal disease.
But Myriad didn’t just patent their test. They patented the actual genes. And today, an American judge upheld their patent.
If you discover a new planet somewhere in the universe, you get to name it. That’s pretty cool. There are billions and billions of planets, so if I identify a few million planets and stars, I could conceivably paste my name on an entire corner of the sky. Constellation Shane. Sweet.
But you know what I wouldn’t get to do? I wouldn’t get to charge people to look at my planets. I wouldn’t get exclusive rights to massive balls of molten rock just because I peered into a telescope for a couple years. Even if I spent my entire fortune locating one solitary planet, I wouldn’t own it, because a planet is a naturally occurring phenomenon that existed long before I was born and will be here long after I’m gone.
But companies like Myriad insist that there are grey areas when it comes to ownership. These planet-patenters like to point out that you can, for instance, own a piece of land, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
But there’s a key difference: I already own my genes. We all do. If a corporation goes rooting around in someone’s closet and discovers a mint condition Stratocaster, they don’t get to patent it, sell it, and keep the money. That would be theft.
Biotech companies like Myriad are thieves, plain and simple. They’re stealing our genes. It’s time to take them back.
If you’d like to show your support, head over to The Gene Patenting Petition and sign online. Then call your congressman. Call everyone’s congressman. Spread the word. Tell companies like Myriad that our DNA isn’t a playground, and they don’t get to play Finders Keepers with our genetic information.