Are life patents ethical? Conflict between catholic social teaching and agricultural biotechnology's patent regime

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 14 (3):301-319 (2001)
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Patents for genetic material in theindustrialized North have expandedsignificantly over the past twenty years,playing a crucial role in the currentconfiguration of the agricultural biotechnologyindustries, and raising significant ethicalissues. Patents have been claimed for genes,gene sequences, engineered crop species, andthe technical processes to engineer them. Mostcritics have addressed the human and ecosystemhealth implications of genetically engineeredcrops, but these broad patents raise economicissues as well. The Catholic social teachingtradition offers guidelines for critiquing theeconomic implications of this new patentregime. The Catholic principle of the universaldestination of goods implies that genes, genesequences, and engineered crop varieties areineligible for patent protection, although theprocesses to engineer these should be eligible.Religious leaders are likely to make a moresubstantive contribution to debates aboutagricultural biotechnology by addressing theselife patents than by speculating that geneticengineering is ``playing God.''''.



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