No, You Can’t Patent What God Makes!

By Shlomo  Maital


   The Supreme Court has at long last corrected a terrible wrong.  According to the Los Angeles Times,   “The Supreme Court ruled that human genes are a product of nature and cannot be patented and held for profit, a decision that medical experts said will lead to more genetic testing for cancers and other diseases and to lower costs for patients.    In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the nine justices declared that human genes are not an invention, so they cannot be claimed as a type of private property.”

   A company called Myriad Genetics Inc. in Salt Lake City,   held patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, related to breast cancer,  and hence had a monopoly on testing for the genes.  This enabled Myriad to charge thousands of dollars for these tests, making them inaccessible to women who could not afford it and hence endangering their lives. 

   The original patent was a travesty.  How in the world can you justify patenting something that God created, rather than humans?  Simply discovering something that God invented, rather than creating something new, should not ever have been patentable.  And the wrong that original patent did  cannot be fully righted, because we do not know how many woman died of breast cancer as a result of Myriad’s monopoly and price-gouging.   

   Hopefully, Angelina Joli’s courageous decision to undergo surgery, because of her family’s breast cancer history and because she has the offending genes, will heighten women’s awareness.  And even more hopefully, more women will now undergo gene testing, whose cost will fall drastically,  and enjoy longer better lives as a result. 

   Congratulations to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, who left little room for doubt about the justices’ view.  


“Myriad did not create anything,” he wrote. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

   Congratulations also to Dr. Harry Ostrer, now at Albert Einstein Medical Center, for being one of the plaintiffs.