From Chakrabarty to Myriad and Beyond: Catholic Contributions to the Gene Patenting Debate
Distinctively Catholic voices have contributed to public debate over the patenting of human life from its very beginnings (since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1980 Chakrabarty decision). This essay reviews these contributions and assesses them in light of Audrey Chapman’s recent criticism that, in general, religious contributions to the debate over gene patenting have been intermittent, fragmented, and less interested in shaping actual patent law and policy, especially in the US, than in mounting a “prophetic” critique of what are taken to be the various problematic political, social, and economic assumptions undergirding such law and policy. In response to Chapman’s critique, the essay demonstrates how a theologically coherent and ethically rigorous contribution to the public debate over gene patenting–one that is not exclusively “prophetic”–can be discerned in the work of two influential Catholic theologians, Lisa Sowle Cahill and Cathleen Kaveny. Going beyond both Cahill and Kaveny, and in contrast to the widely shared assumptions about divine ownership that underlie their (and most other) theological contributions to this debate, the essay proposes that recapturing the late Herbert McCabe’s point that God literally owns nothing would allow the formulation of a more adequate theological contribution to the bioethical debate over gene patenting.
Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property
Paul J. Wojda, "From Chakrabarty to Myriad and Beyond: Catholic Contributions to the Gene Patenting Debate" in Patents on Life: Religious, Moral, and Social Justice Aspects of Biotechnology and Intellectual Property, ed. Thomas C. Berg, Roman Choli, and Simon Ravenscroft, Cambridge University Press, 2019.