WASHINGTON (July 23, 2003) -- "The House of Representatives is to be commended for doing the morally correct and ethically responsible thing in refusing to provide federal funds to grant a patent covering a human organism," said Gail Quinn, executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Ms. Quinn was responding to the passage in the House by voice vote (July 22) of the Weldon Amendment to the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill.
The amendment makes no change in current law, but reaffirms an internal policy that has guided the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) since 1987.
"That policy is the only one consistent with common sense: Whatever one's views about prenatal human life, we should all agree that no member of the human species is an 'invention,' or mere property to be licensed, bought or sold," Ms. Quinn said earlier in a letter to Congress. "That question should have been resolved when our nation approved the 13th amendment banning slavery, but Congress may need to reaffirm it now for several reasons."
Although the USPTO policy was reaffirmed by an advisory issued in 1998, this has not prevented the granting of at least one patent that seems to violate the policy, Ms. Quinn noted.
The USCCB official warned that efforts to have the USPTO policy evaded or reversed will continue, as some researchers have said they want to patent and market
human embryos with certain genetic profiles as "models" for studying diseases with genetic roots. "Such plans to mass-produce and commercialize nascent human lives as commodities deserve a firm response from Congress," Ms. Quinn said.
"The Weldon amendment forges no new policy ground, but provides statutory support for the longstanding federal policy against patenting humans at any stage of development," she wrote.