When I picked-up the latest free issue of Pathways while leaving yoga class the other evening, my attention was immediately drawn to an interview of Harriet Washington, a noted medical ethicist and author of several books related to the subject. (Her latest, titled Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate takeover of Life Itself -- And the Consequences for Your Health and Our medical Future, published late last year, is the basis and focus of the interview.)
Later, as I read the interview, it became clear to me how changes in medical patent law, going back to 1980 with the Bayh-Dole Government Patent Policy Act, created a market for patentable living things and allowed researchers to use the information, subsidized and paid with our taxes, to sell the information to private corporations (i.e., Big Pharma) for their own gain and profit. As Ms. Washington notes: "Bayh-Dole was basically a golden key for corporations who could now profit from patents that they previously were unable to hold." It gets worse (which shouldn't be a surprise under our current corporatocracy governmental structure).
Once Big Pharma patents a gene, for example, it literally stifles innovation, so that product innovation slows to a crawl with resultant soaring prices. I learned about the corporatization of universities, the shelving of unprofitable research, the corporate funding of the FDA and medical journals, and why we're inundated with tons of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertisements in the United States -- which are banned and illegal in Europe, Canada, and almost everywhere else in the world. Nowhere else in the world (except for New Zealand), are corporations allowed to do this. In a nutshell, I learned how corporations have now been given license to patent, and own, the very basis of life itself. Here is the interview in its entirety, conducted by Dr. Daniel Redwood:
"Two events took place in the United States in 1980 that, in retrospect, have dramatically changed the nature and direction of health sciences research. These were the Supreme Court decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty that allowed the patenting of living things and the passage of the Bayh-Dole Government Patent Policy Act. To begin, could you please give us a broad-brush summary of these policy changes?"
"Their import is that Diamond v. Chakrabarty removed the ambiguity about whether one could take out a patent on a product of nature. And specifically for our purposes, whether one is able to take out a patent on a living thing. Living things had occasionally been patented in the past. For example, when adrenalin was patented, there were objections that this was actually a discovery rather than an invention. Even Louis Pasteur faced questions when he patented a strain of yeast. Some said, 'You didn’t invent this yeast; you just discovered it'
So now we have a law that stipulates unambiguously that if something is living, that’s not a bar to its being patented. In addition, we have a second law saying that when a university holds a patent, it is legal for the university to license or sell that patent to a corporate entity. Previously, universities were not allowed to do that, the rationale being that these patents arose from research that was subsidized by the government—that is, by you and me. Our tax dollars paid for the development of these molecules, and the feeling was that a private corporation should not be allowed to profit from it. The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, supplemented by other laws, changed all that, making it feasible and, in fact, making it desirable for the first time, for researchers to take out patents on living things, based on research performed in universities, and to sell and license them to corporations. Bayh-Dole was basically a golden key for corporations who could now profit from patents that they previously were unable to hold."
Read the rest here.
Here's another interview from last December, by Thom Hartmann, on the same subject.