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Breast Cancer and Gene Patenting: More Than a Fight for Your Life?

Kathy Greenier,
New York Law School chapter of the ACLU
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February 17, 2010

Following on the heels of the first federal court hearing on whether human genes should be patented, ACLU Staff Attorney Sandra S. Park and Elsa Reich, genetic counselor and plaintiff in the lawsuit, will bring the issue to the public eye at a film screening and panel discussion on Monday, February 22.

What: Breast Cancer and Gene Patenting: More Than a Fight for Your Life?
Film screening and panel discussion
When: Monday February 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm
Where: New York Law School, Room WA14, 185 West Broadway, New York, NY

This event is free and open to the public.

The lawsuit, Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, et al., brought by the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), challenges the government’s granting of and Myriad Genetics’ control of patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 human genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The lawsuit charges that patents on human genes violate the First Amendment and patent law because genes are “products of nature,” and therefore can’t be patented.

The New York Law School (NYLS) ACLU student chapter and the NYLS Institute for Information Law and Policy will present a screening of the film In the Family followed by a panel discussion about gene patenting. In the Family is an award-winning PBS documentary that puts a personal face on the issue of gene patenting. The filmmaker, Joanna Rudnick, turns the lens on herself when she receives a positive genetic test result revealing she is at risk for breast cancer. The film traces her questioning the company who owns the gene patent about who controls the test, and her difficult decision about whether to have a mastectomy.

The panel discussion following the screening will provide a chance to discuss what’s at stake for scientific research and women’s health. In addition to Park and Reich, panelists will include Professor Molly Beutz Land and Professor Rochelle C. Dreyfuss. Professor Beutz is an Associate Professor of Law at New York Law School whose current scholarship focuses on access to knowledge and the intersection of intellectual property, information law, and human rights; she will provide a focus on breast cancer gene patenting as a human rights issue, bringing in comparative perspectives for how other states deal with this issue. Professor Dreyfuss, the Pauline Newman Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and a Codirector of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU, serves on the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Genetics Health and Society. She will focus on ways of dealing with gene patents to improve patient access to genetic tests, and whether we need gene patents to provide incentives to find diagnostics and the problems gene patents pose to patient access. The panel’s moderator, Christopher Wong, is a Postgraduate Fellow at the Center for Patent Innovations at New York Law School and a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

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