Genetic Property Rights on Trial

In early February 2010, a US federal district court in New York began deciding a landmark case about whether individuals have a “right to know” how their own genomes can dictate their future health. The case, which challenges the enforceability of commercial patents on human genes, may have a tremendous impact on medicine and science.

LONDON – In early February 2010, a United States federal district court in New York began deciding a landmark case as to whether individuals have a “right to know” about how their own genomes can dictate their future health. The case, American Civil Liberties Union v. Myriad Genetics , may have a tremendous impact on medicine and science.

The questions on which the case turns are whether genetic patents help or hamper research, and whether patients should have to pay a license fee to a biotechnology corporation to be tested for predisposition to disease.

One of the plaintiffs is Lisbeth Ceriani, a 43-year-old woman with breast cancer whose doctors recommended that she be tested for two genetic mutations involved in some hereditary forms of the disease. Myriad Genetics, the sole test provider in the US – it holds a patent on the genes themselves , not just on the diagnostic test – did not accept her insurance, and Ceriani could not afford to pay for the test. So she remained ignorant, as did her physicians – with possible ramifications for her clinical care. Five other plaintiffs – along with major medical bodies – tell similar stories.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.