Sunday, April 21, 2013

Other people's bodies: a fresh perspective

Admittedly, I have scrupulously avoided making arguments based upon ethical perspectives that are grounded in religious beliefs when discussing gene patents or bioethics in general. This is largely because I am completely non-religious. I also think religious arguments do little to convince those who don't happen to share your beliefs. Nonetheless, Arthur Gershman's book Other People's Bodies offers a fresh perspective on issues in bioethics, with some special relevance to the gene patenting debate. Gershman is himself a registered patent attorney who has weighed in against gene patenting online, and in a number of other fora and media. His blog is here and includes a recent column from the Jewish Daily that opines against gene patents in relation to the Myriad case.

Gershman's short book is chock full of interesting and enlightening essays relating to bioethics in general, and educating the reader about the perspectives offered by Jewish thinkers and theologians. While I am not personally convinced by religious or even culturally-based arguments about the ethics of various biological studies or commercial actions regarding our tissues, bodies, or genes, I think it worth pointing out that the BRCA1 and 2 mutations, as with a number of monogenic mutations, disproportionately affect the Jewish population, just like Canavan's and Tay-Sachs, Ashkenazi Jews appear to have higher percentages of these diseases than other populations, as far as we know. I think that this gives us an obligation to recognize and respect to some degree a Jewish perspective, inasmuch as it offers a unique approach to the ethics of biological materials, bodies, and property emerging from this tradition, and take account of it in our political responses to issues like gene patents. I am happy that Gershman's book gives us this valuable perspective and recommend it to everyone dealing with this issue.

1 comment:

Arthur Gershman said...

Thank you for the kind words, David. But two corrections are in order: I am a retired patent attorney but am presently registered to practice in the USPTO as an agent (RN 27,035); and the full title of the publication is "The Jewish Daily Forward," known generally as the "Forward."