I don't get to say that very often.
In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled today that genes cannot be patented. They were specifically addressing the patenting of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes by Myriad Technologies, a company that claimed the right to conduct all testing for genetic predisposition for breast and ovarian cancers.
The impact of Myriad's patent was widespread. Several Canadian provinces were ordered to "cease and desist" testing of the BRCA genes. Instead, the provinces were ordered to send the genes directly to Myriad labs, at a dramatically increased cost. Disregarding the order has put Canadian provinces and hospitals at risk of being sued, rendered testing more expensive and, in some cases, halted testing completely.
Patenting also has the potential to deter researchers from engaging in research involving patented genes.
On behalf of the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated" and ""Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention."
That's pretty clear. And it should have been obvious. You can't patent parts of our bodies. But the Association for Molecular Pathology, the American Civil Liberties Union, Breast Cancer Action and some very brave women had to take it all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Actress Angelina Jolie brought worldwide attention to the genetic testing, when she wrote an op-ed last month for the New York Times in which she wrote about choosing a prophylactic double mastectomy after testing positive for a BRCA gene. Hopefully, this ruling will eventually mean that more women can choose testing that will allow them to make more informed decisions about their own health.
Want to know more? You can read the Supreme Court ruling for yourself or click on the links throughout this post.
I think this might be the first time I've agreed with Clarence Thomas on anything.
Here's a very short (less than two minutes) , very effective video by the ACLU that explains why you shouldn't be able to patent our genes: