Corporations Are Patenting Human Genes and Tissues -- Here's Why That's Terrifying
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In the aftermath, there were these lawsuits and finally Pfizer had to pay out a fine. But the fine they were asked to pay was just dwarfed by their amount of profits every year. It's just the cost of doing business to them. Certainly in a case like this, considering the final cost to them, you could argue it was worth it to them.
BJ: Do you see U.S. Occupy protests as a direct outgrowth of this kind of corporate encroachment on our lives?
HW: That is a parallel that's made very often. And I'm just going to plead ignorance here. As much as I read and as much as I think about that, I think that there's the same frustration with the degree of control corporations have over things that should not be controlled by monetary interests. And yet that's our habitual practice of medicine today. So as far as the Occupy Wall Street protests echo that sentiment, then I agree with them. There are other elements of course in which I think there is not a parallel between them and the people I talk about.
I began this book being really concerned about poor people, people in the developing world, people who I thought and I still think are impacted most heavily by this. But I quickly came to realize that it affects all of us. I mean it's also middle-class people. Because the drug prices are so high and because the corporate control of medical research is so extensive and our health policy so extensively protects them, middle-class people are not really faring any better. Middle-class people are caught in the same bind.
So I guess that's sort of a qualified yes [laughs].
BJ: Since the Citizens United court ruling, we're living in a time where, in effect, corporations are considered people, while simultaneously corporations are buying the property rights to the very essence of human life. You've eerily described them as our "biological landlords." This already has a nightmarish quality today. In regard to the future of medical patents, do you see the pendulum swinging back or the situation growing worse?
HW: Unfortunately, if history's taught us anything, it's that things can always get worse. But I don't think it will. The pendulum can swing back, but it's going to need a big push from us. It's not going to swing back on its own. Because the most powerful people in this country are being well served by this. The very wealthy people don't have the worries that most of us have. And corporations certainly don't have the worries we have. They're not disturbed by their high prices. They're constantly defending them. They're not disturbed by the lack of care for people in the developing world. They have no problem claiming that, "Hey, don't blame us -- it's not our patent, it's their poverty."
It can be done, but we're going to have to push it. And the way to push it is to repeal Bayh-Dole and find those lawmakers. There are lawmakers out there who are trying to repeal parts of this problem, patents on genes, for example. And researchers also are beginning to see that his system is dysfunctional and starting to come up with different models.
So it's going to be up to us to push the pendulum in the other way.