Fighting Successfully to Thwart the Drive to Commodify Human Life

By Dave Andrusko

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tx.)

Almost exactly one month apart, two classic examples of how unrelenting resistance to the drive by the biotechnology industry and individual researchers to commodify human life can pay rich dividends. One, here at home, the other, in Europe.

As we reported, on September 16, after eight long years of patient work, there is now a ban—a permanent as opposed to a temporary ban– on the issuing of U.S. patents on human embryos. National Right to Life played a key role in this issue which carries enormous substantive and symbolic significance.

It became clear early this year that Congress was likely to take up a sweeping revision of the patent laws. NRLC insisted on inclusion of language to codify (make permanent) a previously enacted temporary prohibition on any patents being issued on human embryos.

Going back as far as 2003, NRLC fought hard for the ban, arguing that it was one necessary bulwark against the plans of some biotechnology organizations to create an industry based on the creation and manipulation of human embryos.  NRLC and others cited statements by some researchers that they wanted to patent and market human embryos with certain genetic profiles as “models” for studying certain diseases. President George W. Bush warned of “human embryo farms.”

When the permanent ban was enacted last month,  NRLC’s Douglas Johnson commented, “This law recognizes that human life is not a commodity, and that a member of the human family can never be regarded as a mere invention, or as ‘intellectual property.’”

Then, just yesterday, a landmark victory in the European Court of Justice.

In a case brought by Greenpeace, the Court denied patent rights for stem cell research from embryos if they are destroyed in the process.

As discussed here on Tuesday in an analysis writtenby Gregor Puppinck, PhD., the case originally concerned a patent held by Oliver Brüstle who wanted to use embryonic stem cells in order to treat neurological diseases.

The German Federal Court of Justice, hearing the case introduced by Greenpeace against Mr. Brüstle’s patent, referred the question to the Court of Justice concerning the interpretation of the “human embryo” mentioned in Article 6(2)(c) of the EU Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions. …

The question in the Brüstle case was whether the exclusion from patentability of the human embryo expressed in the Directive covers all stages of life from fertilisation of the ovum or whether other conditions must be met, for example, that a certain stage of development must be reached. In response to this question, the Court has decided that the Directive covers all stages of life.

The pro-life European Centre for Law and Justice welcomed this decision saying, “[T]he proper protection of the human embryo requires that the human embryo is given a broad definition. This decision protects life and the human dignity in its early development.”

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