10.7Commercializing the Human Body

In the United States, the idea of liberalism acknowledges individual behavior to the maximum extent possible, but it can only persist as long as no third party is harmed. A negative result thereof is that human body parts that have been separated from the body with the person's consent end up becoming mere commercial goods. The person who gave his or her consent directly sells his or her blood, seminal fluid, egg cells, etc. In the case of surrogate mothers, there are also cases in which financial motives are suspected. Furthermore, when a person dies, non-governmental organizations (NGO) appear at the hospital, obtain an agreement from the family and get parts of the dead body handed over for therapeutic purposes without cost. In some cases, NGOs sell these body parts to companies which examine, process, sterilize, and ship them. As such, the provision of skin, bones, and tendons, etc., for therapeutic use is becoming commercialized in the United States. Extremely critical of such a situation in the United States, the European Union (EU) has adopted policies that keep the commercialization of the human body to a minimum.
In the case of countries of poor economic strength, buying and selling of organs to survive poverty is not uncommon. In poor areas of countries such as the Philippines, India, and Pakistan, people sell one of their kidneys on a daily basis. Although this practice should be condemned by the standards of Western countries, it has been intentionally overlooked as a desperate attempt to earn money. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Transplant Society have been trying to prohibit the buying and selling of organs, but as long as economic disparities exist, there are no decisive measures to repress the current situation in which organs are being sold to the wealthy and foreigners.


The History and Current Status of Eugenics

Prior to the start of the human genome project, there were particular concerns that the decoding of the human genome would lead to a eugenic society just like in the first half of the 20th century. When Darwin proposed the Theory of Natural Selection in The Origins of Species in 1859, and Mendel's law was rediscovered in 1900, there were claims that these biological principles should also be applied to human beings for the betterment of society. This idea was called eugenics in that through sterilization and segregation, people regarded to possess disease-producing genes should be prevented from giving birth to a child, and that the marriage of highly capable people should be promoted. Eugenics is a word that was coined in the 19th century by Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin. At the beginning of the 20th century in England, research on eugenics started. Thereafter, it was acknowledged by the American society, and sterilization laws later came into effect in some states. In 1933, when Hitler took over power in Germany, sterilization laws were enacted by the Nazis the following year. During the first year alone, more than 56,000 people were given orders to be sterilized in the country.
It must be noted, however, that the adoption of sterilization measures was not a phenomenon peculiar to the racist Nazi period. In post-war Japan, the Eugenic Protection Law was established, and more cases of sterilization were performed than during the war. Furthermore, it has come to light that sterilizations were also performed in pre-war Denmark and Sweden under their social-democratic governments. The decoding of the human genome was completed in 2003, and there are no indications that this kind of genetic discrimination has since occurred.


Life Science Research and Intellectual Property Rights

As intensive research investments are made for life sciences, the new challenge came along with the issue of patent: to what extent animal and human tissues can be recognized as patent-eligible subject matter. The first patent on living organisms is said to be a case (Chakraborti case) in which a patent was sanctioned for microbes that had been developed for the disposal of spilled crude oil. Hereafter, the United States adopted pro patent policies in awarding a wide range of patents. At the beginning of the 1990s, patent applications for gene sequences and even fragments thereof were filed. Since many venture companies applied for patents independently from one another, this resulted in the disadvantage of blocking the overall use of technologies. Furthermore, medicinal products produced by multinational companies could not be used in some countries due to the high cost of patent fees, and this situation led to conflict between the North and South.
Today, for a better patent approval process, principles of "novelty," "inventiveness," and "usability" stand. While the scrutiny of the approval process has increased, there is a growing consensus in the world that no question will be asked regarding what the subject matter is. However, the European Union's "Directive on Bioengineering Inventions" rejects any patents on the use of human clones and embryos because they believe such a practice offends public order and morals.

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