A Philosophical Exploration of the Concept of ‘Property’ in Genetics and Databanking: Challenges for Bioethics in Asia and Europe

A Philosophical Exploration of the Concept of ‘Property’ in Genetics and Databanking: Challenges for Bioethics in Asia and Europe

Ole Döring (HGI-Charité Berlin, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-883-4.ch009
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The chapter criticizes arguments purporting to show that the human body could be made available in the market as property and those arguing that the concept of property could be applicable to the human bodily parts or human DNA. The author argues that the genetic information contained in matter such as DNA cannot be taken for granted as classifiable as property. There are three reasons: DNA is too personal to be commodified; DNA is of familial nature; and commercialization of DNA runs the risk of exploitation of the disadvantaged. Moreover, ethics should venture to clarify interests and stakes in the debate, with sympathy for the vulnerable rather than executing the rationales of powerful groups in economy and society.
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What Is At Stake

Modern biomedicine and the development of genetic technology raise a number of concerns about the tendency to see a person’s body as an accumulation of objects that may and can be separated and commercially transferred. In fact, the view, that sees a human body as an accumulation of objects, is convenient because it suggests and encourages practices of utilization that would be difficult to defend morally without such a view. The primary consequential danger of commodification is that it can lead to exploitation and dehumanization, particularly of vulnerable populations, such as people at the margins of society, thus eventually contributing to de-humanizing societies at large. This danger is most apparent in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies’ quest to patent and market products derived from human tissues, e.g., the widespread ‘biopiracy’ in the developing world (Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), 1995).

Moreover, the metaphysical challenge lies in reducing the human being, in part or in total, to an instrument, be it by other people or by an individual regarding itself. This concern is also expressed in efforts to anathematize and contain any activity or doctrine that might support dehumanization, for example in terms of taboo or ban. Both consequentialist and metaphysical concerns demarcate the conceptual horizons of the cultural philosophical debate about the ethics of databanking.

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