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Alex Singleton

The George Washington University

Philosophy 135-10

Professor Lloyd Eby

April 29,2005

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Alex Singleton

Philosophy 135 -10

Professor Lloyd Eby

April 29, 2005

Ethical Issues in Biotechnolow

According to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, if Earth began around 6 billion years

ago and you considered this as 12:OO AM on a 24 hour clock, and the present represented as the

midnight of the next day, the first signs of life emerged around 9:00 PM, while humanity

appeared at 11 :59:45 PM (Tyson). According to this scaled perspective, the existence of life is

relatively new to Earth.

The theory of evolution suggests that after millions of years, through countless

adaptations, humanity has evolved fi-om a single cell. Humanity has proven to be the most

innovative and progressive creature ever to roam planet Earth, as we continue to seek

improvement for our individual quality of life while remaining concerned for those within our

environment. Although a sense of altruism is still prevalent among many individuals of today's
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societies, the more advanced societies are primarily focused in facilitating the needs of others

through science. As a result of scientific breakthroughs achieved in biotechnology, the human

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race now has the ability to control

-- evolutionary destiny through the wonders of genetic
engineering, or (GE). Undoubtedly, (GE) is one of the most controversial issues ever to arise

within the scientific community, and has now split into two camps of thought: genetic therapy

and genetic enhancement. The former, espouses a conservative (GE) approach, dedicated to

optimize general health and nothing more, while the latter embraces all forms enhancement

through (GE), from performance to appearance. Nevertheless, both conditions are unclearly
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defined, which has led to widespread confusion and misunderstandings of the industry. In order

to properly establish a genuine argument for taking a stance on the issue, it is necessary to

explain the history and nature of the biotech industry, identify the opposing sides of (GE) clarify

the ethical issues in question, and explore the contrasting avenues of philosophical views on the

subject, so that formidable basis may be constructed for a well-considered decision can be made

within regards to the ethical use of biotechnology.

The theory of evolution contends that every living organism evolved from the same

protozoan ancestor, and because of this- the twin helix structure of a deoxyribonucleic acid, or

(DNA), held together by two pairs of building blocks, known as nucleotides. While all species

might have the same structure of DNA and similar sequences, no two genetic codes are the same,

except in the case of identical twins. It is important to understand the universal origins of life,

and recognize the slight changes in the general sequence of nucleotides within the double helix

structure, that account for the countless variations that creating the variety of species that have

developed throughout the evolutionary course of the planet. However, it was only until the

completion of the Human Genome Project, or (HGP), a "massive effort, funded by the United
States and other government to decode the entire (DNA) sequence of human beings", that made
(GE) possible with the discovery of the (DNA) blueprint that reveals how to construct a

particular human, from the ear size to the color of hair (Fukuyama,73). However it was only a

matter of time before this brilliant discovery would be surrounded with all sorts of ethical


Although the (HGP) created quite a stir of commotion within the biotech community,

scientists were enchanted by the newfound data and itching to experiment, in spite of the
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onslaught of outraged critics protesting such research. According to political philosopher,

Francis Fukuyama, the current state of the debate of biotechnology is:

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,E ".. .polarized between two camps. The first is libertarian, previously referred to as earlier
: : $ $, referred to those in favor of the genetic enhancement, and argue that society cannot put
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, ,, scientists who want to push back the frontiers of science, those who want to profit from
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unfettered technological advances, and the countries of U.K. and U.S.A., ideologically
b@ L8 committed to a free market system of technology" (Fukuyama, 182).

According to Fukuyama, the other heterogeneous group, previously referred to as the proponents

of genetic therapy, and their concerns of biotechnology, range from "religious convictions,

environmentalists concerned with the preservation nature, opponents of new technology, and

people on the Left who are worried about possible [implementation of] eugenic measures"

(Fukuyama,183). Now that there is some distinction of sides, it would be wise to consider what

these two opposing groups accept and reject in the field of biotechnology, specifically genetic


The basic differences between "non-inheritable (somatic) and inheritable (gem line)

genetic modification.. .is that between genetic modifications meant to treat medical conditions,

and genetic enhancements of appearance- is inherently blurry" (Therapy versus Enhancement,

2004). Concordantly, most people would agree treating certain genetic diseases, such as cystic

fibrosis, as acceptable use of biotechnology. However, genetic changes that "endow musical

talent, superior strength, or increased intelligence, or to choose the color of the skin, hair or ryes,

are fairly clear examples of enhancement" (Therapy versus Enhancement, 2004). Although

"enhancements" might be easy to classify, the lines drawn within genetic therapy are anything

* . - but clear, specifically within regards to "the modifications meant to treat medical conditions".
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It seems as though the biotech industry was deliberate in unclearly defining such a complex
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issue. It would also seem that biotech industry is just as scientifically oriented as is the field of

medicine, and should estaklish unquestionably clear conditions that qualify for therapeutic

treatment. Thus, there is no clear distinction between physical and mental illness, both equally

affecting overall status of health subject. Since there are no clear rules, any sort of action taken

within the uncertain boundaries of genetic therapy is subject to face the objecting critics on either


In another related case, certain psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or manic

depression, could be treated according to a strict interpretation of genetic therapy. However,

Kay Redfield Jamison is strongly opposed to any such measures, and explains:

"...there must be a serious concern about any attempt to reduce what is beautiful and
original to a clinical syndrome, genetic flaw, or predictable temperament. It is think of anyone-certainly not only writer, artists and musicians- in such a
limited way" clinching her argument, with "the fear that medicine and science will take
away from the ineffability of it all, or detract from the mind's labyrinthine complexity.. ."
(Jamison, 258).

Jamison raises an excellent question, asking how we should classify these disorders. Some of

the finest works of artistic genius ever produced in this world, such as Edgar Allan Poe, T.S.

Eliot and Vincent Van Gogh, and scores of other brilliant minds have documented medical

records of a mental disorder. Therefore, do these disorders enhance the creative potential of

mentally afflicted individuals, or are they simply an impediment to general day-to-day

productivity? If so, should humanity reserve the right to correct such a problem?

Nevertheless, some argue that there is a great benefit if it was for some reason decided to

screen the masses for mental disorders and alter the (DNA) of hture offspring appropriately.

According to a Scientific American, institutionalizing people who have:

"Chronic schizophrenia, severe depression or extreme substance abuse problems is very

expensive [to treat]. Treatment with designer drugs made to order for these problems,
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with microchip implants that release needed chemicals into the body or perhaps with
virtual reality therapy, in which patients find relief in a computer generated fantasy
world" (Caplan, 142)

Many advocates of biotechnology believe that it will alleviate the stress of mental health

resources, thereby increasing the quality of care.

Along with examining its benefits, it is wise to consider the adverse effects of

biotechnology, such as the complete elimination of Down Syndrome, not through means of

abortion--which amounts to an annual rate of abortion nearing 90%- -but through genetic therapy

(Down Syndrome). With such marvelous technology, does the human race reserve the right to

completely eliminate, an entire disabled community? Not only is this a hard question to ask, but

another difficult question would arise from correcting the disorder, requiring the enhancement of

the child's intelligence, but to what end? According to gene therapy, any form of enhancement is

prohibited; but what if it is necessary in order optimize a child's health? This is another obscure

issue that gene therapy is unable to address.

Jim Watson, the same Watson that that shares the discovery of double helix structure of

(DNA) with friend, Francis Crick, rejects the notion that a disorder can actually benefit the

individual, and believes that if (GE) offers the choice, a healthy, happy child is most important

and should be considered to be the parent's responsibility to ensure so (Watson). In order to gain

a moral understanding identifying the types of individuals and philosophical views that

associated with both sides of (GE) is a critical piece of information, and will assist in

understanding as to why and how certain groups of people choose a side.

Normative Theories of Ethics

In the exploring the philosophical of biotechnology, Irnrnanuel Kant's perspectives are

certainly relevant. Kant argued "that we had to assume the existence of the possibility of true
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moral choice and freedom of will.. .and by definition moral action could not be the product of a

natural desire or instinct but had to act against natural desire on the basis of what reason alone

dictates to be right" (Fukuyama, 118). Furthermore, Kant posited that "as moral agents, human

beings were monumena, or things in themselves, that therefore had always to be treated as ends

rather than means" (Fukuyama, 119). Kant assumes that moral rules can be applied to any

rational agents and believed that "moral rules in principle, be known as a result of reason alone

and are not based on observation" (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw, 67). Additionally,

Kant's categorical imperative states "that we should always act in such a way that we can will

the maxim of our action to become a universal law", which claims that laws can in fact be

created (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw, 68). Although the boundaries stipulated in the

codes of bioethics are unclear, according to Kant, it would be possible to categorize what is right

and what is wrong. An appropriate ethical standard that would support the consequences of

biotechnology and an ethical standard that would reject the consequences of biotechnology are

equally worth an examination.

According to theory, libertarianism is "the liberty of each person to live according to his

own choices, provided he or she does not attempt to coerce others and thus prevent them from

living according to their choices...firmly reject[ing] utilitarians concern for total social well

being", (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw, 109). In accordance with the ideas of

libertarianism, and examining the implications of genetic engineering, the consequences of

biotechnology appear to fit within the co nes of libertarianism. Many Libertarians argue "that

since the vast majority of parents would want only what is best for their children, there is a kind

of implied consent on the part of the children who are the beneficiaries of greater intelligence,

good looks, or other desirable characteristics", (Fukuyama, 93). Therefore, it would appear that
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Libertarians would support even the slightest use minimal use of genetic manipulation,

considering they would believe every individual to be much better off, with the guarantees of

being cancer free, enhanced quality of food and medicine. Evidently, libertarians would seem

regard all implications of biotechnology as a benefit. However, a philosophical view that

opposes the consequences of biotechnology should be examined as well.

Although the scientific community would most likely snub the religious ethical views, it

is probably the only philosophical view that categorically rejects any use of biotechnology.

Today, many religions reject the use of artificial contraception and would seem to therefore

provide the clearest ground for rejecting genetic engineering. In many of the world religions,

man is created in the image and likeness of God. In Christianity, such an image serves as the

basis for basic human dignity. However, there seems to be wide distinction between "human and

non-human criterion; only human beings have a capacity for moral choice, free will and faith, a

capacity that gives them a higher moral status than the rest of animal creation" (Fukuyama,88).

According to religious views, God is the sole creator of nature and any harm done to nature

would be to harm God. Therefore, in accordance with religious views, biotechnology would be

an insult to God's creation, which would therefore be equal to insulting God. In the Bible,

located within the Book of Ephesians, the question "Who will straighten what He has made

crooked" is really the view of all religions regarding biotechnology.

Mv Opinion

In explaining the history and nature of the biotech industry, and clarifying the ethical

issues in question, then identifying the opposing sides of (GE) in order to formulate a genuine

stance on the issue, I have concluded that I would unreservedly subscribe to the more restrictive

application principles of (GE), simply because I feel that it would be rather foolish to start
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altering the building block responsible for all existing life, without extensive research and tests.

When thinking about the ethical implications of the issue, I cannot help but think of one my

favorite movies, The Matrix. In the second movie of the trilogy, Neo the main character, meets

the creator of the matrix, the architect. The architect said that he had originally built a matrix

where everyone was happy. However, his design was an abominable failure claiming that the

primitive human mind needed a world that was plagued by disease and struggle. In his second

design of the matrix, although improved, the architect again failed because of a "systemic

anomaly", which was the power of choice. The movie suggests that because of choice, it is the

very thing that makes us human. That is why I believe humanity must always remain challenged

to control the things we can and overcome the things we cannot with the miracles of science,

which is why I support the therapeutic measures of (GE) and elimination of genetic diseases,

cancers and mental disorders that are that are beyond the power of our choice.

Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw. Moral Issues in Business. 9th ed. Belmont:
Thomson Wadsworth, 2004.

Caplan. A. (1995). An Improved Future? Scientific American, 142-143.

Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved Mar. 03,2005, from

Jamison, K. (1993). Touched with Fire. 1st ed. New York: Free Press Paper Backs.

Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology

Revolution. 1st ed. New York: Picador.

Genetics and Society, (2004). Therapy versus Enhancement. Retrieved Mar. 03,2005,
from Genetics and Society Web site: www.gentics-and-society-

Tyson, Neil deGrasse."Origins of Life." How Did We Begin?. Public Broadcasting

Servce, . 2004. Transcript. 03 Mar 2005

Watson, Jim."Pandora's Box." DNA. PBS, . 2003. Transcript. 03 Mar 2005

Bioethics and Patents

Alex Singleton

PHIL 135-10

Lloyd Eby

March 24,2004

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Alex Singleton

PHIL 135-10

Lloyd Eby

Bioethics and Patents

"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute

rejection of authorify;"
-Aldous Huxley

The evolutionary mandate of the human species is no longer under the guard of Mother
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Nature, as natural law is now within the watch of human intelligence, after discovering the

miracles of life through biotechnology and the marvels of genetic engineering. Nevertheless, the

science of genetic engineering is governrnent-regulated and still remains deeply entangled within

a thicket of ethical inquiry, mainly concerning industry related ventures. Essentially, the

controversies ensnaring biotechnology emanated from the industry's aggressive campaign to

obtain patents for the discovery or manipulation of material found within deoxyribonucleic acid,

or D.N.A.-the universal "blueprint" shared by every forms of life on the planet. Industry critics

rejected the notion, stating that any gene isolated or manipulated within a laboratory, is purely

derived from any and all forms of deoxyribonucleic acid, or D.N.A., and merely a scientific

discovery of nature, not an invention, and is thereby legally ineligible for patent rights. The

contentious debate was eventually settled by the United States Supreme Court in 1980, which

ruled in favor of granting patent rights to biotech engineers upon the discovery or manipulation

of a gene, as it was deemed consistent with a similar federal court ruling that allowed patent laws

to include drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies. In explaining the ethical basis for

genetic engineering, the historical account and explanation of the field, combined with the
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examination of three distinctive philosophical theories of ethics, will cooperatively demonstrate

-theethical basis for patenting genetic innovations in biotechnology.

The Issue

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organism evolved fkom the same
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protozoan hcestor, and because of this, all living things shake one universal trait- the twin helix

structure of a deoxyribonucleic acid, or D.N.A, held together by two pairs of building blocks,

known as nucleotides, that are always paired with its corresponding match, with the purpose of

supporting the integrity of the structure. Although every organism shares the same structure and

the same nucleotides, a specific sequence of the corresponding pairs of nucleotides account for

the uniform characteristics of one species, and on a more detailed level, give each individual

organism a unique signature. It is therefore essential to recognize the universal origins of life

and realize that any change within the general sequence of nucleotides within the double helix

structure of D.N.A., however slight or considerable it may be, is shared by every living creature,

a secret known only by nature, until recently. During the early 1970s, scientists Herbert Boyer

and Stanley Cohen when experimented with the manipulation of D.N.A., demonstrating "snip

Cping] out [a gene] of one species and then [inserting it] into the D.N.A. of another species, and

once there the transplanted gene would still produce whatever protein it was originally

programmed to make" (Abate, 7). Boyer and Cohen had become the founding fathers of genetic

engineering, arguably the most important discovery of mankind, which shortly thereafter became

ensnared by an ambush of ethical questions.

Although the extraordinary discovery lead by Boyer

. and Cohen created quite a stir of
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commotion within the biotech community, scientists were allured by the newfound innovation

and itching to experiment its potential, in spite of the onslaught of outraged critics protesting the
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research of what would become one of the most contentious debates in the history of medical

ethics, or bioethics. According to political philosopher, Francis Fukuyarna, the current state of

the debate of biotechnology is divided, and is:

". ..polarized between two camps. The first is libertarian, and argues that society cannot
put constraints on the development of new technology.. .which includes researchers and
scientists who want to push back the frontiers of science, those who want to profit from
unfettered technological advances, and the countries of U.K. and U.S.A., ideologically
committed to a free market system of technology...[and] the other heterogeneous group,
with moral concerns about biotechnology, consisting of those who have religious
convictions, environmentalists with a belief in the sanctity of nature, opponents of new
technology, and the people on the Left who are worried about the possible return of
Eugenics", (Fukuyarna, 182).

Essentially, the former camp argues for the same rights protecting dmg companies, while the

latter camp "...object that DNA sequences are discoveries, not inventions.. .[and] that granting

patents in the area hinders innovation rather than acting as an incentive which patents are

supposed to do", ("Owning the Body and the soul."). Hence, the question is whether or not life
* "

itself can be patented, or owned. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the dispute, in

the case Diamond v. Chakrabarty. Microbiologist, Anada Chakrabarty, had genetically

engineered new bacteria that could digest oil and would serve to combat oil spills. The court

ruled in favor of biotech patents in 5-4 decision, and explained that Chakrabarty's creation

"produced a new bacterium with markedly different characteristics from any found in nature and

one having the potential for significant utility.. . his discovery is not nature's handiwork, but his

own; accordingly it is patentable subject matter setting a precedent that genetically engineered

organisms could be patented", ("Diamond v. Chakrabarty."). Essentially, the Supreme Court's

decision suggested that life could in fact be patented, as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

was authorized patents on genes and proteins discovered by biotech scientists. In determining

the ethical legitimacy of the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case, the decision should be examined
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under a selection of widely recognized normative ethical concepts, such as utilitarianism,

contractarian and libertarian ethics, in order to establish the "concrete.. .kinds of institutions that

would be needed to allow societies to control the [currently unchecked] pace and scope of

technology development", (Fukuyama, 183).

Exploring Normative Theories of Ethics

As previously mentioned, today's world is plagued by a number of ethical disputes. In

the case of genetic engineering, one of the ethical questions is whether or not gene, a form of

life, can be patented. A patent is a type of regulation that "draws the red lines separate fiom

proscribed activities, based on a statues that defines the area in which regulators can exercise

some degree of judgment", (Fukuyama, 207). In explaining the ethical basis for genetic

engineering, the examination of three distinctive philosophical theories of ethics will

demonstrate the just basis for patenting genetic innovations in biotechnology, specifically

utilitarianism, contractarian and libertarian ethics.

Many of today's issues are polarized between the scientific establishment and the
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religious community, both of khich unfortunately employ propagandistic methods in order to


accomplish partisan related agendas-to what extent these are ethically just remains to question

Nevertheless, such feuds over ethics date as far back to the beginnings of mankind. The ancient

philosopher Aristotle, was one the most renowned ethical theorists in history. Aristotle argued,

in essence:

"That human notions of right and wrong-what we today call human rights-were
ultimately based on human nature-That is, without understanding how natural desires,
purposes, traits, and behaviors fit together into a human whole, we cannot understand
human ends or make judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust",
(Fukuyama, 12).

Evidently, Aristotle's definition of "good" would align with utilitarianism-"the moral doctrine
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that we should always act to produce the greatest possible balance of good over bad for everyone

affected by our action.. . [Hence] the greatest happiness of all constitutes the standard that

determines whether an action is right or wrong", (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw, 60).

Today, drug companies are inventing drugs that are truly providing miracles, like those

developed by Bristol Myers Squibb, the same company creating a cancer fighting serum that

gave Lance Armstrong a second chance at life. Although these drugs are merely derivations of

synthesized chemical compounds existing in nature, pharmaceutical companies are entitled to

patent rights, in an effort to protect their privately funded research and development, by

demanding compensation from any other firm seeking to produce the same discovered formula.

Within the philosophical framework of utilitarianism, the ostensible consequences of

biotechnology appear not to conflict, given that biotechnology can create a world never thought

possible- a world free of cancer, disease, disorders, spoiled foods, the end of all pain and

suffering. Thus, if the promises of biotechnology are in accordance with the maxims of

utilitarianism and thereby ethically just, the commercialization of the industry potential is

intrinsically "good", and they should therefore be entitled to protect their work just like any other

industry. Nevertheless, it is wise to consider another perspective of normative theory of ethics

that is not so much concerned with overall good, an approach known as libertarianism, which is

more concerned with the infringement of individual liberty.

In such a complex world, some people believe that society cannot possibly be responsible

for everyone, given that every individual is different and will intrinsically act independently.

According to definition, Libertarianism is "the liberty of each person to live according to his own

choices, provided he or she does not attempt to coerce others and thus prevent them from living

according to their choices...firmly reject[ing] utilitarians concern for total social well being",
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(Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw, 109). In accordance with the ideas of libertarianism, and

examining the implications of genetic engineering, the industry of biotechnology appears to fit

quite comfortably within the lines of the normative ethical theory. Many Libertarians argue "that

since the vast majority of parents would want only what is best for their children, there is a kind

of implied consent on the part of the children who are the beneficiaries of greater intelligence,

good looks, or other desirable characteristics", (Fukuyama, 93). If Libertarians argue are not

only in favor of a virtual privatizing the entire biotech industry, they would undoubtedly be in

favor of the slightest use minimal use of genetic manipulation, considering they would believe

every individual to be much better off, with the guarantees of being cancer free, enhanced quality

of food and medicine. Nevertheless, consider the importance of a regulated, free market

pharmaceutical industry. Although the free market system seems to be the best form of

commerce, there are a few exceptions that are government-regulated, such as the pharmaceutical

industry. For the sake of example, consider the effects of unregulated pharmaceutical market;

company that is profit hungry could release a drug on a whim, without carefully examining side

effects. Hence, if biotechnology is a regulated, free market, a system that is undoubtedly the

most successful forms of economics, it would force every firm to churn the best product

possible, and benefit from the incentive with a claim on its discovery, through a property right,

or patent. The only consequence of genetic patents that remains to be examined is their role in

the future.

A philosophical work by John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, is a theory concerning

contractarian ethics. His theory of justice concerns the group of individuals, rather than the

society of individuals. One of his central arguments claims that the unequal distribution of

talents was inherently unfair. Rawls maintained that if we were to establish rules, it should be
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under the "veil of ignorance", which in effect "forces people in the original position to be

objective and impartial and makes agreement possible7', (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw.,

11 7 ) e. Behind this "veil of ignorance" Rawls explains that humanity requires: "the conditions

under which human beings can optimally establish plans, which at a minimum assumes that they

are purposive, rational animals that can formulate long term goals" (Fukuyama, 121). Therefore,

if humankind is able to achieve the impossible and distribute talent amongst hture offspring,

they would be one step closer to a perfect society that could never before have been reached.

There would be no reason to inhibit the progress of biotechnology by prohibiting the industry's

exploration, under a fiee market, which is only made possible by financial compensation for

today's discoveries, allowing industry players to make discoveries tomorrow.

Evidently, the discoveries made through genetic engineering qualify as inventions, not

merely discoveries. The scientific researchers manipulating D.N.A. into organism that is not

exist within in nature, is just as artificial as any other human creation, such as pharmaceutical

drugs. Therefore, if it is ethically just to grant pharmaceutical companies property rights to

scrambled chemical compounds that are found in nature, it is just as ethically just to grant patents

to biotech firms that scramble D.N.A. material that are also found in nature. While examining

the consequences of biotechnology and genetic engineering along the lines of utilitarianism,

libertarianism, contractarianism and, clearly there it is optimizes the greater good of society

without encroaching the rights of anyone else living in the today's world Thus, there is no

logical reason to ethically question the use of patents within the field of biotechnology.

Mv Take

I am wholeheartedly able to understand the ethical justification for the genetic

engineering of human D.N.A., however, at this point in my life, I find myself undecided on a
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myriad of issues that would normally conflict with my religious beliefs. According to

philosophy professor Robert C. Solomon, "the etymology of ethics suggests its basic concerns

for "the individual character, including what it means to be a good person.. .and the social rules

that govern and limit our conduct, especially the ultimate rules concerning right and wrong,

which we call morality", (Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw. lo). In short, I stand here today

in a haze of confusion. I was raised in a Catholic family and educated by a Jesuit Preparatory

School. However, I feel that my faith- I had held once so strongly- has been compromised by the

reality of the present world. My religious beliefs are constantly in conflict as I attempt to

formulate stances on current ethical issues. The promises of genetic engineering in particular are

a particularly difficult for me to digest. I know that the Catholic Church at this point would not

condone such a science, as it simply "playing God". However, I do not think my religious

morals will accept the fact that humanity is to suffer. I say this because my brother has been

battling leukemia for the last few years, and to see that his suffering could be prevented through

this new science seems anyhng but wrong. I do not see a difference between the drugs he is

administered during treatments, which prolong his life, and the manipulation of his cells that

would not make him suffer from cancer. Since I believe that the miracles of biotechnology are

just as morally or ethically just as pharmaceutical drugs, they should both, by natural right be

treated with the same regulations and exercise the same degree of caution.
Works Cited

Abate, Tom. The Biotech Investor. New York: New York, 2003.

Barry, Vincent and William H. Shaw. Moral Issues in Business. 9th ed. Belmont:
Thomson Wadsworth, 2004.

"Diamond v. Chakrabarty." 16 Jul 1980.24 Mar. 2005

< 0>.

Fukuyarna, Francis. Our Posthuman Future. New York: Picador, 2002.

"Owning the Body and the soul." The Economist March 10 2005
Page 1 of 2

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RIB The world has became a much srnirlter place


='RINT&E-E F P j E 7 1 1 ~ " E P 3 r r 5 C ~ A iECY

About sponsorship

Owning the body and the soul

[viar 10th 2095
Froin Tke Econon~istprint editic;::

A lot of human-gene patent claims may be ill-founded

MANY people believe that patents on parts of the human genome are a bad idea. Some object on
principle, arguing that what is human is inherently special, and should not be the subject of
property rights. Some object that DNA sequences are discoveries, not inventions, and thus legally
ineligible for patenting (an argument that applies to all DNA patents, not just those on the human
genome). Some say that granting patents in the area hinders innovation rather than acting as an
incentive, which patents are supposed to do. That is because people who have obtained patents
, on particular genes are attempting to charge researchers for using those genes in their research,
even when no commercial gain is involved. And some argue that there is nothing wrong with the
idea in principle, but that patent offices, particularly America's, have been promiscuous in
approving applications that do not come up-to legal snuff.

A study published in this week's Science, by Jordan Paradise and her colleagues at the Illinois
Institute of Technology, addresses the last point and finds it disturbingly true. I n more than a third
of the cases which Ms Paradise's team examined, they concluded that the claims made did not
match the legal requirement of a patent-that it be useful, novel and non-obvious. I n addition,
many of the inventions were not properly described and defined, which the law also requires.

Ms Paradise and her colleagues examined 74 patents on human genetic material related to nine
diseases known or suspected to have genetic causes (Alzheimer's, breast cancer, asthma and
obesity being among them). Together, these patents made 1,167 specific claims about what the
technologies in question achieved. I f such a claim failed to meet one of the legal requirements for
a patent, it was deemed "problematic". A particular patent could thus have multiple problems.

I n the judgment of the authors, 38% of the specific claims were problematic. Even worse, 73% of
the patents contained at least one such problematic claim. As for the causes of the problems,
slightly more than 40°/o were due to concerns about utility- that is, whether the invention could
truly achieve what it promised. Slightly less than 40°/o raised concerns because their descriptions
were inadequate. The remainder failed the novelty and non-obvious requirements, or lacked
"definiteness", a requirement that the limit of the inventors' claims is clearly specified.

How much this matters is open to debate. First, what is problematic has been defined by the
authors (who are, admittedly, lawyers), rather than hammered out in the courts. Second, the
authors are unable to say whether their figures are out of line with those in other fields of
technology. Third, the sample draws on awards made as far back as the early 1990s. It thus