Greenpeace Was Behind EU Lawsuit Seeking to Patent Embryos

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Oct 20, 2011   |   11:15AM   |   Washington, DC

You may or may not have heard that recently a European Union court has ruled that the extraction of embryonic stem cells cannot be patented because it destroys a human embryo.  The court ruled:

“a process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.”

This ruling does not prevent researchers from destroying embryos for their stem cells, but does stifle some of the profit motive.

So who was it that brought this suit against the patenting of the destruction of embryos for their cells?  Was it some pro-life group?  No, it was Greenpeace.  Yes, you read that right.  Greenpeace of Germany lead this charge.  Why?  Here is a translation from German Greenpeace website:

Greenpeace had started this case in light of the debates about the European patent law. According to the EU patent directive, patents on human body parts, human genes and permits to plants and animals. Greenpeace, a number of objections to the European Patent Office has started, including patents on human embryos in eggs from the people, on human genes and on plant and livestock concerns. In parallel, an action against the patent of Oliver Bruestle before the Federal Court lodged after this had previously been contacted directly but was willing to change particularly contentious passages in his patent relating to the cloning of human embryos for the Dolly technique.

Greenpeace takes these actions against patents on life, because the organization revived in the extension of patent rights on the nature and abuse one sees an aberration of a patent right. Therefore, the organization shall include one against patents on human genes: These obstruct proven in many cases, research and development – to the detriment of patients and physicians. Instead, Greenpeace generally occurs for a clear limits in patent law over the living world – these relate to the limits with respect to a commercial use of the human body as well as the patenting of genetic resources.

I read this to mean that Greenpeace does not necessarily oppose the destruction of embryos for research.  They instead are concerned about the trend of patenting naturally occurring products of the human body like cells and genes.  These patents turn embryo, child and adult alike into patentable, harvestable and profitable biological material.

So I say, even though we may not be entirely on the same page, “Bravo Greenpeace.”  This Catholic agrees that patents on naturally occurring human genes, cells and parts are unethical because they reduce the human person to parts.   The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also on board against the patenting of naturally occurring genes and taking the fight to the American courts.

Modern biotechnology sure does make strange bedfellows.  Case in point, Hands Off Our Ovaries, a group of pro-life and pro-abortion women and men who do not want women to be exploited by scientists in the name of “stem cell research.”

The fact that common ground can be found with organizations like Greenpeace and the ACLU is something I believe is important in the fight to protect human life.