Agreement Reached on Ban on Patenting Human Beings

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 24, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Agreement Reached on Congressional Ban on Patenting Human Beings

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 24, 2003

Washington, DC ( — Pro-life lawmakers have reached an agreement with members of the Senate to include a provision in a governmental funding bill that would prohibit the patenting of human beings.

The U.S. Patent Office currently operates on the policy that requests from biotech firms or research universities to patent a human being will not be granted. However, the provision will give that policy the force of law.

The provision would ban patents for genetically engineered human embryos or human beings but would not prohibit patents on tissues, cells or other biological products.

Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), a pro-life doctor, sponsored a similar provision in the House of Representatives that was approved in July.

The biotech industry opposed the provision. It says that it is not interested in patenting human beings but that the pro-life provision would also prohibit stem cell research and other types of scientific experiments.

Weldon said pro-life lawmakers reached an agreement with members of the Senate to make it clear that the patent ban wouldn’t apply to other kinds of research. They attached his amendment to the bill.

"The biotechnology industry has been fighting this tooth and nail,” Weldon said. Pro-life groups agree.

"The biotech industry has disseminated these imaginative and expansive claims about the Weldon amendment," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

"I think this puts the spotlight on the real issue: The biotechnology industry is lobbying to keep the legal door open for patenting cloned or genetically modified human embryos to ensure the payment of royalties for each embryo created or sold under license. All of that is essential for making human embryo farms and fetus farms profitable."

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director James Rogan wrote the Senate last week expressing his support for the provision, saying it is "fully consistent with USPTO’s policy on the non-patentability of human life-forms."

Since 1987, the U.S. Patent Office has prevented anyone from obtaining patents on humans, including human embryos.

Johnson said the biotech industry wants to engage in eugenics by creating embryos that have certain genetic traits that causes diseases such as cancer. Then, researchers can test vaccines on the embryos.

"The biotechnology industry wishes to patent human embryos and collect fees for each copy sold," Johnson added.