Shabbat Afternoon, Ethics and human genome patenting and the future of life form patenting


The afternoon session was titled “Ethics and Human Genome Patenting” and were Chaired Professor Robert K. Vischer, Dean and Mengler Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. Lectures included:

  • Public trust doctrine applied to gene patents – Professor Brian Scarnecchia, Ave Maria School of Law, Franciscan University of Steubenville
  • The theological case against privatising the human genome – Professor David Albert Jones, Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford
  • Human genome and copyright: an ethical alternative to patents? – Mark Engelman, Barrister and Head of IP at Hardwicke Chambers, Lincoln’s Inn; Master of the Bench, Gray’s Inn; Von Hügel Institute Research Associate and a former Hasmo boy, came up with the thought provoking and brilliant suggestion that rather than considering them an invention and awarding patents for gene sequences, the correct tool for protecting them, either as a creation or, like database contents or telephone directories, reflecting the effort, is as copyright.

gene patent

After yet more tea and coffee, there was a roundtable called the future of life form patenting which was Chaired by a presbytarian, Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.
Contributors included:

  • Professor Geoff Hunt, Director, Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies, St Mary’s University, Twickenham (reflecting on the ethics of nano bio-medicine patenting)
  • Martin Gouldstone, Head of Lifesciences Advisory, BDO (reflecting on industry concerns over gene patenting) and
  • Dr Thana Campos, Von Hügel Institute Research Associate (speaking on ‘the idea of patents vs. the idea of the university’).

Dr Campos’ claimed that patenting interfered with academic publishing and cost the university money rather than raised funds. Unfortunately, she did not substantiate her statements with any statistics or hard evidence. I found it contrary to what I knew to be the case with the Israel university tech transfer companies and suspect that if there are problems, it is due to poor management rather than intrinsic to the system. Sure, the tech transfer model can be criticized as leading to applied rather than basic research, but as not infrequently I turn academic papers into provisional patent applications whilst the paper is at the galley proof stage, I do not believe that patenting restricts or delays publication.

There was another little drinks session to finish off the conference. I reflected that what passed as orange juice in the UK seemed to be the second washings after pasteurization and would probably not be considered drinkable in Israel.

chabad Cambridge

Walking back from synagogue earlier that day, I passed the Chabad House of Cambridge. Chabad is a kind of salvation Army type of Jewish missionary cult aimed at disenfranchised Jews. The Chabad House was less than five minutes walk from Murray Edwards and after the conference, I popped over there until nightfall where I prayed and studied a little. It turned out that the Rabbi’s wife was the daughter of a former geography teacher at Hasmonean, the London high school I’d attended. I see Shabbat as a family time, and it was nice watching her kids playing together. She and the Rabbi had recently reproduced again, and I very much enjoyed holding and playing with her four month baby.

Luton Airport

I took a national express coach from Cambridge to Luton Airport. Luton is like Lublijani Airport in Slovenia. It is tiny. Nevertheless, in one of the restaurants, there were Kosher sandwiches and salads from DDs.

Hoeward Bound

Things are ever stricter regarding security. Now, apparently, one is not allowed to have 100 ml of fluid in one’s bladder. The woman in front of me had on an underwired brassiere which triggered the metal detector. The ELAL breakfast consisted of a rubbery omelet and yoghurt. Nevermind, I was Homeward Bound.

Categories: Academia, Jewish

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