Who Owns Your Body?
Legal and Social Issues in Michael Crichton's NEXT

Do you own your DNA, or does someone else?
Do gene patents inhibit research?
Can researchers use your genetic material without your consent?
How do universities profit from patents?
Where do fact and fiction meet in the world of biomedical research?


On May 21st, 2007, as part of an ongoing project, experts from law, the judiciary, medicine and the social sciences gathered at Chicago-Kent College of Law to discuss recent conflicts over research on body tissue, including the patenting of genes. The participants examined the legal status of and disputes over the human body, and discussed potential policy, legislative or other legal solutions. The discussion touched upon the commercialization of academic science, conflicts in biomedical research, and gene patents.

Lori Andrews urged courts to recognize individuals' rights to control whether and how their tissue is used in research. Former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian provided evidence of recent thefts of body parts from research institutions and mortuaries and Michele Goodwin showed how current law does not protect the unwitting recipients of diseased tissue. In the research realm, Goodwin suggested that people should have a right to sue when researchers use their tissue without their consent. Tim Caulfield detailed the problems caused by the endemic commercialization of the research environment, now that university researchers using taxpayer money can actually personally profit by patenting their findings. Debra Harry spoke about how indigenous peoples are being mined by researchers attempting to discover genes in their tissue.

Seth Shulman said that allowing patents on biological facts or products of nature "chokes" productivity and "erodes our democratic institutions." Stephen Hilgartner said decisions about intellectual property issues should not just be measured by whether they reward innovation, but by whether they foster accountability, governance and control. According to Hilgartner, intellectual property rights - like other property rights - need to give way at times to the public good. John Conley showed how courts could overturn gene patents based on the longstanding legal precedents that people should be able to patent products of nature.

Finally, Michael Crichton argued gene patents may have looked practical 20 years ago, but the field has changed so much since then that gene patents are "unnecessary, unwise, and harmful." The speakers also addressed other ethical, social, and legal disputes over viewing the body as property, the commercialization of body parts, and the impacts of the legal status of the body on particular population groups. The speakers agreed that the commercialization of science and gene patents affect research and health care and create problems that need to be addressed.


Lori Andrews
Lori Andrews, J.D., is Distinguished Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and Director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology. In 2002, she was a Visiting Professor at Princeton University. USA Today says, "When octuplets are born in Houston, when a dead man fathers a baby in Los Angeles, when 'twins' of different races are born after a medical mix-up in Manhattan, whom are you going to call? Lori Andrews definitely is on the short list." [ Read More ]


Armand Arabian
Armand Arabian, LL.M., served as a member of the Supreme Court of California from 1990 to 1996. Justice Arabian is a nationally recognized leader in the reform of rape laws. He started his legal career as a deputy district attorney in California. He started his legal career as a deputy district attorney in California. In 1972, he was appointed by then-Governor Ronald Reagan to the Los Angeles Municipal Court and 15 months later elevated to the Superior Court. Justice Arabian served on the California Court of Appeal from 1983 until 1990. He was then appointed as the 105th associate justice of the Supreme Court of California where he authored 104 majority opinions. [ Read More ]


Timothy Caulfield
Timothy Caulfield, LL.M., analyzes the impact of gene patents on health care and health policy. He is the Research Director of Health Law at the University of Alberta. In 2002, he received a Canada research Chair in Health Law and Policy. Additionally, Caulfield is a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health. He has been a visiting scholar at the Hastings Center for Bioethics in New York, the University of Houston's Health Law and Policy Institute, and Stanford University's Program in Genomics, Ethics and Society. [ Read More ]


John M. Conley
John M. Conley, J.D., Ph.D., undertakes research in law and social science, with a special focus on intellectual property law. He is William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Before beginning his legal career, Conley served as a scuba diver with the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts. Later, he practiced law in Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina for six years, specializing in intellectual property and civil litigation. [ Read More ]


Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton, M.D., is a writer and filmmaker, best known as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER. His most recent novel, Next, about genetics and law, was published in December 2006. [ Read More ]


Michele Goodwin
Michele Goodwin, LL.M., is currently the Wicklander Chair in Ethics and a professor of law at DePaul College of Law, where she directs the top-ranked Health Law Institute as well as the Center for the Study of Race & Bioethics. As of July 1, 2007, Goodwin will assume a new post at the University of Minnesota, where she is jointly appointed a professor in the law and medical schools. Goodwin will hold the Everett Fraser Chair at the University of Minnesota Law School. [ Read More ]


Debra Harry
Debra Harry, M.S., is Northern Paiute, from Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Harry is the Executive Director of The Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism and the Producer of the 2003 documentary film The Leech and the Earthworm, an IPCB/Yeast Directions production that examines the globalized hunt for genes within Indigenous territories and bodies and features Indigenous activists from around the world. [ Read More ]


Stephen Hilgartner
Stephen Hilgartner, Ph.D., undertakes research on the social impact of genetics. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University and Chair of the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) committee of the Cornell Genomics Initiative. He is a member of the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science and a member of the steering group of the Section on Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. [ Read More ]


Seth Shulman
Seth Shulman, M.A., is an award winning journalist and author who specializes in issues of science, technology, and the environment. In 1985, he was a Knight Science Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2004, he became MIT's first Dibner Science Writer Fellow. Shulman's Owning the Future, published by Houghton Mifflin Company (1999), raises a sobering alarm about the trend to privatize information and knowledge through the expansion of patents, copyrights and trademarks and asks what this trend will ultimately mean for the future of our democratic society. [ Read More ]



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