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Human Gene Patents and the Question of Liberal Morality

Papaioannou, T

January 2006

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 moral and political battle has began over the extension of IPRs to information contained in human genetic material. According to Nuffield Council on Bioethics, over the past 20 years, large numbers of human genes have been the subject of thousand patent applications. Indeed, many patents have been granted. 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. The argument is that human gene patents are in conflict with fundamental principles of liberal morality and justice because they result in genetic information feudalism. That is another antinomy of capitalism through which the division of knowledge and labour are reproduced as genetically and socially class divisions between individuals and between nation states. This antinomy not only threatens equality but also liberty and human welfare.

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