A frightening little tale. Re: Patenting Human DNA (fwd)

Derek A. Kalahar greens at tam2000.tamu.edu
Fri Nov 17 15:19:50 MST 1995

Forwarded message 
> Resent-To: greens at TAM2000.TAMU.EDU
> Errors-To: ggale at cctr.umkc.edu
> Originator: sci-tech-studies at kasey.umkc.edu
> Precedence: bulk
> Subject:      A frightening little tale.  Re: Patenting Human DNA


> ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
> ***Please!  Direct any e-mail replies to:  rafiusa at harlan.pdial.interpath.net***
> *
> *
> "Another major step down the road to the commodification of life"
> says Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Director Pat Mooney.
> *
> RAFI moves to take the life patenting issue to the World Court.
> *
> Patenting Indigenous People
> In an unprecedented move, the United States Government has issued itself a
> patent on a foreign citizen.  On March 14, 1995, an indigenous man of the
> Hagahai people from Papua New Guinea's remote highlands ceased to own his
> genetic material.  While the rest of the world is seeking to protect the
> knowledge and resources of indigenous people, the National Institutes of
> Health (NIH) is patenting them.  "This patent is another major step down
> the road to the commodification of life.  In the days of colonialism,
> researchers went after indigenous people's resources and studied their
> scoial organizations and customs.  But now, in biocolonial times, they are
> going after the people themsleves" says Pat Roy Mooney, RAFI's Executive
> Director, who is at The Hague investigating prospects for a World Court
> challenge to the patenting of human genetic material.
> The Hagahai, who number a scant 260 persons and only came into consistent
> contact with the outside world in 1984, now find their genetic material  -
> the very core of their physical identity - the property of the United
> States Government.  The same patent application is pending in 19 other
> countries.  Though one of the "inventors,"resident in Papua New Guinea,
> apparently signed an agreement giving a percentage of any royalties to the
> Hagahai, the patent makes no concrete provision for the Hagahai to receive
> any compensation for becoming the property of the US Government..  Indeed,
> the Hagahai are likely to continue to suffer threats to their very survival
> from disease and other health problems brought by outsiders.
> RAFI's Jean Christie has recently returned to Australia after consultations
> with the governments of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (one of
> whose citizens is also subject to claims in a related US Government patent
> application).  On her return from Port Moresby and Honiara, Christie said
> "This outrageous patent has provoked anger in the Pacific and is a matter
> of deep concern worldwide."
> In response to 1993 investigations by the Government of the Solomon Islands
> and RAFI, NIH's Jonathan Friedlander (Physical Anthropology Program
> Director) wrote to the Solomon Islands Ambassador to the United Nations,
> allaying their concerns by saying that the patent applications "will likely
> be abandoned entirely or not allowed."  Contrary to Friedlander's
> indication, in the course of routine research prior to Christie's trip to
> the Pacific RAFI discovered that the patent was issued 6 months ago.
> Linked to the "Vampire Project"?
> The first-ever patent of an indigenous person comes as an international
> group of scientists are embarking on the Human Genome Diversity Project
> (HGDP), which aims to draw blood and tissue samples from as many indigenous
> groups in the world as possible.  While the Hagahai are not specifically
> mentioned in the draft "hit list" of the HGDP -- dubbed the "vampire
> project" by its opponents worldwide -- it has targeted over 700 indigenous
> groups, including 41 from Papua New Guinea, for "sampling" by researchers.
> Friedlander, who wrote that the patent application would likely be
> withdrawn, participated in the development of the HGDP and was among those
> at its founding meeting.  Within weeks of the patent's issue, Friedlander
> returned the Pacific on business related to the collection of blood
> samples.  At the same time, indigenous people and NGOs from across the
> Pacific are working on the implementation of a "Lifeforms Patent-Free
> Pacific Treaty."
> As recently as last week's UNESCO Bioethics Committee meeting, HGDP
> Director Dr. Luca Cavalli-Sforza claimed that the project did not support
> the patenting of indigenous peoples' DNA.  In contrast, at the Beijing
> Women's Conference, Sami indigenous women from the Nordic countries added
> their voice to the dozens of indigenous peoples' organizations that have
> denounced the project as a violation of their rights.  "The thin veneer of
> the HGDP as an academic, non-commercial exercise has been shattered by the
> US government patenting an indigenous person from Papua New Guinea," said
> Edward Hammond, Program Officer with RAFI-USA in North Carolina.
> The Value of Human DNA: Mining Indigenous Communities for Raw Materials
> NIH's patent (US 5,397,696) claims a cell line containing the unmodified
> Hagahai DNA and several methods for its use in detecting HTLV-1-related
> retroviruses.  The team that patented the cell line is headed by the 1976
> Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Dr. D.Carleton Gajdusek.  Recent cases have
> concretely demonstrated the economic value of human DNA from remote
> populations in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and development of
> vaccines.  Blood samples drawn from the asthmatic inhabitants of the remote
> South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha were sold by researchers to a
> California-based company which in turn sold rights to its as yet unproved
> technologies for asthma treatment to German giant Boehringer Ingelheim for
> US $70 million.
> NIH patent claims on indigenous people's genetic material are pursued
> abroad by the National Technical Information Service, a division of the US
> Department of Commerce.  Ronald Brown, the US Secretary of Commerce has
> left no question as to his interpretation of the controversy, stating
> "Under our laws... subject matter relating to human cells is patentable and
> there is no provision for considerations relating to the source of the
> cells that may be the subject of a patent application."  The Hagahai, and
> millions of other indigenous people, in other words, are raw material for
> US business.
> RAFI believes that this is only the beginning of a dangerous trend toward
> the commodification of humanity and the knowledge of indigenous people.
> Whether human genetic material or medicinal plants are the target, there is
> scarcely a remote rural group in the world that is not being visited by
> predatory researchers.  Indigenous people, whose unique identity is in part
> reflected in their genes, are prime targets of gene hunters.  Says Leonora
> Zalabata of the Arhuaco people of Colombia: "This could be another form of
> exploitation, only this time they are using us as raw materials."
> RAFI Challenges the Patenting of Human Beings
> RAFI has been closely following the patenting of indigenous people since
> 1993, when pressure from RAFI  and the Guaymi General Congress led to the
> withdrawal of a patent application by the US Secretary of Commerce on a
> cell line from a Guaymi indigenous woman from Panama.  RAFI is currently
> investigating prospects to bring the issue of human patenting to the World
> Court at the Hague as well as the Biodiversity Convention and relevant
> multilateral bodies.
> Pat Mooney, Executive Director          Ottawa, ONT (Canada)    (613) 567-6880
> Jean Christie, International Liaison            Queensland, Australia
> (61) 79 394-792
> Edward Hammond, Program Officer         Pittsboro, NC (USA)
> (919) 542-1396
> DATE:  4 October 1995
> ------- End of Forwarded Message

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