Idealism with Bureaucracy?

The hope of the many scientists that have worked so diligently on the human genome project is that their work will be used for good.  Mapping the genetic code holds so much promise in developing cures for countless diseases.  However, the pharmaceutical industry has become one of the most powerful industries in the country, and only functions to make a high profit margin. The pharmaceutical industry guarantees its profits through the use of patents, and when one begins to patent genetic code, the idealistic enthusiasm that has brought the human genome project so far falls by the wayside as bureacracy and financial discussions take center stage.  This is the theme of part seven in PBS’s Cracking the Code of Life. How can there be idealism with so much money at stake?

Patenting DNA?

Patenting the genetic code raises essential ethical dilemmas.  How can someone begin to prescribe patents for things such as eye color or height, and to what ends can this process be stopped.  Greed and bureaucracy have unfortunately taken precedent over scientific idealism, and no one can possibly benefit from this selfishness as the documentary suggests.  The pharmaceutical industry has functioned under this model for generations, and therefore will be very resistant, if not impossible, to change.  While there will be many important scientific breakthroughs with the research done by the human genome project, those hoping for miracle cures to genetic diseases probably won’t live to see them.  This process of patenting takes time and money, and the central decisions on how that time and money is spent will be left up to unqualified politicians and businessmen looking to advance their self interests, not idealists looking for a brighter and better future.

-Robert Jeter

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~ by Robert Jeter on February 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “Idealism with Bureaucracy?”

  1. Hey Robert,

    Though I do generally share your sentiment that most politicians are inept, greedy, and corrupt and that the pharmaceutical industry is slowly tending toward that direction as well, I question that if there is no literal “pot of gold” at the end of the research rainbow, then what are the motivations for scientists actually doing research?

    Yes, there are the utopian ideals of pure humanitarianism or “for the good of mankind,” but what most people (especially researchers) really want is recognition for their findings. That fame in the scientific world is probably more valuable to them than the actual money, but the cash in hand and future royalties are not bad substitutes either. Maybe they were idyllic scientists at one point who only wanted to cure the neighbor’s childhood cancer, but since then, I’m sure their motives have changed.

    Hence, if you take away their only relevant reasons for actually researching (sole right to findings through patents, glory in scientific journals), then how long are you willing to wait for the cures for which nobody is researching at all?

    Just a thought.

    –Justin Barisich

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