Blog of Rights

Voices on Human Gene Patents: 7 Days Until the Supreme Court

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 10:37am

On April 15, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a deceptively short question: Are human genes patentable? While the question's phrasing may be succinct and simple, the implications of the Court's answer are vast and critical. On behalf of researchers, genetic counselors, women patients, cancer survivors, breast cancer and women's health groups, and scientific associations representing 150,000 geneticists, pathologists, and laboratory professionals (more info on our clients here), we will argue that the patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 – two humans genes (your genes!) associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer – create harmful barriers to scientific progress and medical care. The case is the first challenging whether human genes can be patented.

As we prepare to stand in front of the nine justices next Monday and take back our genes, we are surrounded by incredible friends and allies. We are joined by over a dozen "friend of the court" briefs supporting our argument, along with many more individuals and groups who have spoken out at different stages in this fight.

In the next week before the argument, the Blog of Rights will highlight just a few of these important voices. Stay tuned for our client Runi Limary's story of how gene patents have stood in the way of her medical decision making; amicus Dr. James Evans's description of gene patents' harm to the social good; experts Christopher Mason and Jeffrey Rosenfeld's explanation of the breadth of scientific inquiry stifled by gene patents; amicus Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) Founder and Executive Director Sue Friedman's personal and professional account of the burden gene patents place on patients; and the ACLU's Sandra Park's breakdown of the case before the Court. You can also check out a past blog about the discoverer of DNA, James Watson's belief that gene patents are "lunacy".

We hope these blog posts will serve as a primer on why it is so important that the Supreme Court recognize human genes as classic products of nature, whose study and testing should not be monopolized by a single corporation.

Additionally, be sure to follow the ACLU on Twitter on April 15 for updates from the steps of the Supreme Court!

Learn more about gene patenting and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Statistics image