What are some of the ethical consequences of genetic testing?

The issue of patents….

What makes this an almost sinister ethical issue is that there will be powerful, commercial efforts to develop these tests and to make them widely available to clinicians. Genetic information has considerable commercial potential. The discovery of the BRCA-1 gene, for example, was not announced publicly until a patent had been applied for on the discovery, and a company, Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, had been formed to exploit the economic potential of the invention. As they occur in nature with their introns and exons in the cellular chromosomes, genes are not patentable. However, the so-called copy DNA, c-DNA, the version of the gene with the introns edited out, does not occur naturally. It is coded into messenger RNA by the process that reads the raw cellular DNA, but is not expressed in the cell. Since it thus realized by human ingenuity, using the enzyme reverse transcriptase, it is patentable. At least in this country it's patentable.

Those who hold the genetic patents argue that without them, there would be no incentive for them to attempt to develop genetic therapies. And as long as they hold the patents, they will initially develop tests and then begin to make them available to physicians as aggressively as possible, as Myriad is now doing. So there's this huge financial or commercial incentive, not only for the development of these tests but for their proliferation long before we may be able to do anything about the information that they reveal.



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