BRCA - Statement of Support: United Methodist Board of Church and Society

Document Date: May 12, 2009

The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with 8 million members in the U.S., 12 million worldwide.

We commend the American Civil Liberties Union for the legal action that you are bringing to challenge the patenting of genes believed to be associated with breast cancer—the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. The United Methodist Church has opposed the patenting of life forms since 1992. In that year, the General Conference of the Church declared in its resolution, New Developments in Genetic Science, that

The patenting of life forms is a crucial issue in the debate over access to genetic technologies… In 1984, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church declared genes to be a part of the common heritage of all peoples. The position taken by the church in 1984 is consistent with our understanding of the sanctity of God’s creation and God’s ownership of life. Therefore, exclusive ownership rights of genes as a means of making genetic technologies accessible raises serious theological concerns. While patents on organisms themselves are opposed, process patents – wherein the method for engineering a new organism is patented – provide a means of economic return on investment while avoiding exclusive ownership of the organism and can be supported.

In 1995, we organized a campaign of religious leaders calling for an end to the patenting of life, and the building blocks of life, including genes. In the intervening years, we have been dismayed that tests for the presence of genes associated with some diseases like cancer have been controlled in the US by a few organizations. This is not the case in Europe where the United Methodist Church has many local congregations, but it is sadly still the case in the US. We pray that your suit will be successful and help end the patenting of genes and other parts of the cell. We believe that the mere discovery of a possible function for a part of a living organism is not a sufficient reason to grant an exclusive right to that gene or cell.

Related Issues

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.