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Human Gene Patents and the Question of Liberal Morality

Papaioannou, T

Genomics, Society and Policy Journal   4 (3) 64-83

January 2008

Since the establishment of the Human Genome Project and the identification of genes in human DNA that play a role in human diseases and disorders, a long, moral and political, battle has began over the extension of IPRs to information contained in human genetic material. According to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, over the past 20 years, large numbers of human genes have been the subject of thousands of patent applications. This paper examines whether human gene patents can be justified in terms of liberal theories of morality such as natural law, personality development, just reward and social utility. It is argued that human gene patents are in conflict with fundamental principles of liberal morality and justice because they result in ‘genetic information feudalism’.