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Does a person "own" his DNA?

Just when you think you've got this "property" thing down, along comes science to mess things up.

The NIH just presented some guidelines for handling research using the HeLa cell line. HeLa cells are a line of immortal cancer cells cultured from tissue biopsied from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks who died of cervical cancer in 1951.

NIH Issues Guidelines For HeLa Cell Genome Data

This was the first success in culturing human cells in vitro, and, because of the unique properties of the cell line, these cells have been cultured in labs all over the world for decades.

The scientists tried to keep the name of the tissue donor (actually Ms. Lacks had never consented to the culturing of her cells) from becoming public, but her real identity was leaked to the press a few years later.

Now the entire genome of the HeLa cells has been sequenced and published, but was withdrawn when her descendants objected. They claimed (correctly) that they shared many of the same genes as the HeLa cell line and that information about their own genetic predisposition to disease could be made using this information.

The guidelines allow for the use of the genome for research, but only after approval by representatives of the Lacks family.

Does the Lacks family "own" the information contained in the DNA sequence of Henrietta Lacks?

If so, how far and to whom do these property rights extend?
Should insurance companies be prohibited from using genetic information to rate her descendants? Siblings? Children? Grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? Second cousins?

If family members have veto power over important medical research, what about the results of that research? Should they receive royalties on a cure for cancer?

I think you get the idea.

I have my own opinions and I think this case illustrates why bioethical problems(abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, etc.) cause so much controversy and political division. Such questions go to the heart of natural rights and individual liberty because they cause us to question of how we define an "individual".

What do YOU think?

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