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Abstract

In May 2004, the European Patent Office dealt a serious blow to gene patents by revoking Myriad Genetics's controversial patent on the BRCA1 gene. That patent covered any method of diagnosing a predisposition for breast or ovarian cancer that used the BRCA1 gene sequence. Elsewhere, gene patents are also being challenged in courtrooms, legislatures, and in the arena of public opinion. Numerous international organizations, such as the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and UNESCO, view genes as belonging to the common heritage of mankind . Intense opposition to gene patents is also coming from researchers, politicians, organized religions, indigenous groups, patient groups, and medical professional organizations." Patents covering human genetic material raise a variety of issues related to legal appropriateness, scientific and medical research, and access to health care, as well as issues regarding privacy, autonomy, religious freedom, and reproductive liberty. While there are reasons to celebrate many new developments in medicine and bioethics, patents for human genetic material are an example of a bad policy that needs to be corrected. Gene patents raise bioethical concerns because they can impede access to appropriate health care and violate individual rights.

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