Biopatents: the enclosure of living matter

Biopatents: the enclosure of living matter

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By María Ptqk

Although the current regulations do not authorize the patenting of human beings, it does allow the patenting of genetic sequences, tissues or cells. Bioprospecting of the human genome consists of taking samples of human blood, fluids or tissues to identify unique or potentially valuable genetic characteristics. This is the case of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cancer in 1951, months after a section of cancerous tissue was removed from her uterus. The HeLa cell line was extracted from it, from which some 50 million tons have been reproduced and whose manipulation is at the origin of some 17,000 patents for pharmaceutical products. Lacks' family did not hear from him until 1976 and has received no consideration.

Patents also affect seeds and plants. Monsanto, for example, has obtained between 1983 and 2005 no less than 647 patents on plant organisms. This means that a farmer who wants to cultivate a species whose seed has been patented must acquire not only the seed, but the right to use it for a single harvest.

In general, the regions rich in biodiversity are countries of the southern hemisphere. Indian activist Vandana Shiva puts it this way: “Today's patents repeat the colonial mechanisms that were put in place 500 years ago. They allow multinational companies to appropriate the seeds and plants unknown to the white man and commercialize them ”. Biopatents also affect crop-related knowledge. When a plant species is patented, a set of collective knowledge about the natural environment, accumulated by humans over generations, is privatized. As artist and writer Claire Pentecost, who has worked on industrial agriculture, points out, “seeds are the most durable open source knowledge system in history. They are a repository of knowledge ”.

'Genetic Commons'

Anti-globalization movements approach this issue from the environment or biodiversity. At the 2002 Porto Alegre World Social Forum, hundreds of NGOs signed the Initiative Treaty to Share the Genetic Commons. They declared their opposition to any extension of intellectual property over any living being or any of its components and proposed the establishment of a global commons for the planet's genetic resources.

This stance has inspired much of the opposition to the advancement of biopatents. But University of California researcher Kavita Philip, who specializes in the history of science and technology, raises certain reservations. First, because it hides both the existence of "regional modernities" and the current complexity of emerging countries, inserted in a "post-liberal scenario" presided over by the simultaneous coexistence between various economic and cultural paradigms.

And second, because it denies the possibility of "an indigenous civil society, of indigenous rational subjectivities" that elaborates a regime of government of its surroundings based on its own cultural constructions. In fact, it is the countries where most of the planet's biological capital is located that have begun to reject the rhetoric of the "common good" or the "heritage of humanity" to suggest others that are closer to their models of thought.

This is the case of the Constitution of Ecuador approved in 2008. It declares Ecuador a country free from transgenic crops and seeds and expressly prohibits intellectual property on products or derivatives of collective knowledge. In addition, it includes a section on the rights of nature and numerous references to indigenous concepts such as sumak kawsay, usually translated as the principle of good living, and pachamama, which is identified with nature, mother earth or the fundamental explanatory principle. in the Andean worldview.

Breaking anthropocentrism

For Eduardo Gudynas, academic and activist for sustainable development in Latin America, pachamama is distinguished from nature, the environment or the ecosystem in that these are European concepts that imply the instrumentalization of natural resources. “They contain a perspective of fragmentation and manipulation of nature. They serve to ensure access to resources of economic value but are in tension with other visions that seek to preserve natural environments or emblematic species for reasons other than economic ones ”, he points out. In his opinion, the perspective of the environment as a right means that the environment is only protected according to the rights of people, for human well-being. What the Ecuadorian Constitution contributes is that, in its formulation, pachamama exists and is worthy of protection regardless of its usefulness for human beings.

This biocentric turn, which puts the living at the center, breaks the anthropocentric vision characteristic of modernity. It implies a more ambitious change of outlook than the environmentalist positions that questions the idea of ​​the subject - individual, autonomous, sovereign and free - as the gravitational center of every model of thought.


Video: Bioethics I Biopatents I Biopiracy (May 2022).