U.S. bishops urge Congress to approve bill banning human patents

.- A bill banning the patenting of human organisms must be approved by the Senate to prevent the commodifying and marketing human beings, said Cardinal William Keeler in a letter to Senator Bill Frist.

In a letter to the majority leader, dated Dec. 2, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities urged that the Weldon Amendment, which prevents the patenting of human organisms, be included in an omnibus appropriations bill that is currently being deliberated in Congress.

Florida congressman Dave Weldon sponsored legislation that would impose a total ban on all human cloning and the patenting of human organisms.

Weldon’s amendment reaffirms “an internal policy that has guided the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) since 1987, reflecting a common-sense understanding that no member of the human race at any stage of development is merely an invention or property to be licensed, bought and sold,” said the cardinal, who is also the archbishop of Baltimore.

The House of Representatives approved the Weldon Amendment in July by voice vote, without objection, the cardinal pointed out, but it has stalled in the Senate.

The Weldon Amendment would prohibit patents from being granted on human embryos or fetuses, including cloned human embryos or fetuses.

However, the amendment would not affect patents on genes, cells, tissue and other biological products. It would also not stop scientists from seeking patents for the procedures of creating a biological product. The amendment does not interfere with stem-cell research and does not ban patents in cases where an animal has been modified to include a few human genes so it can produce a human protein or antibody, reported The Washington Post Nov. 25.

Even with these shortcomings, without the Weldon Amendment, researchers are left a major loophole to patent human embryos for any number of research projects.

Cardinal Keeler added that “tragically” there are strong objections to this amendment among members of the scientific community, who “want to patent and market human embryos with certain genetic profiles as models for studying diseases with genetic roots.

“Their project may well succeed unless Congress provides clear and explicit support for the current administrative policy against patenting human embryos,” he said in his letter.

In particular, Cardinal Keeler cited the opposition voiced by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which has criticized the amendment for being “overbroad.”

BIO, said the cardinal, “has argued that a human being should be patentable as an ‘invention’ if he or she has been changed by ‘human intervention’ or was conceived by anything other than ‘conventional reproduction’.”

“I urge your strong support for these efforts … to prevent the commodifying and marketing of fellow human beings,” the cardinal told Frist.

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