Is DNA property? At first glance, the answer would appear to be yes. After all, why would surreptitiously swabbing someone’s DNA be any different than surreptitiously pickpocketing their wallet?
…[John] Wilbanks, who is Chief Commons Officer at Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit seeking to foster open systems of biomedical research, says that property rights in DNA are especially tricky and context-dependent, in part because DNA exists both as a physical object and as digital information that can be easily copied. “If I find your USB stick with your genome sequence on it on the bus, then I can put your DNA online, and you can’t sue me.”
Stanford University Law School professor Hank Greely agrees that human biology does not fit neatly into the property box. “Do you own your kidney?” he asks. “Well, kind of. No one can take it from you without your consent, but neither can you sell it.”
Part of the reluctance to embrace ownership of human biology in some quarters, Greely says, is because of its ugly connotations. “Owning kidneys makes people think of slavery. They think it degrades humanity.” He understands this argument but also finds it to be ironic. “Doesn’t it degrade the dignity and authority of individuals to say that they don’t own their own cells?”
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