House Approves Provision Banning Patents on Human Beings

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 8, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

House Approves Provision Banning Patents on Human Beings

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 8, 2003

Washington, DC ( — The House of Representatives today again approved a provision that would prohibit the patenting of human beings. The measure, which was attached to a package of several budget bills, codifies current Patent Office policy that disallows biotechnology firms from obtaining patents on human beings, including human embryos.

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

Pro-life groups say a patent is a government-conferred property right and human beings shouldn’t be considered "property."

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.

Despite this, the biotech industry opposed the provision. A lobbying group says the firms are not interested in patenting human beings but they claim the pro-life provision would also prohibit stem cell research and other types of scientific experiments.

"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.

Weldon said biotech firms have been fighting his measure "tooth and nail." However, he 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.

The Senate previously attached his amendment to the bill. Members of both houses will meet to resolve differences in the spending bill and it is expected that the Weldon measure will remain intact in the final bill sent to President Bush for his signature.

Bush has indicated he supports the measure. In an April 2002 speech promoting a ban on all forms of human cloning, Bush said, "Life is a creation, not a commodity. Our children are gifts to be loved and protected, not products to be designed and manufactured."

When Bush signs the economic bill, the patent prohibition will become law.