November 18, 2003
The Honorable Bill Frist
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Frist:
As Congress deliberates on an omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2004, I urge you to include the Weldon amendment to prevent the patenting of human organisms.
This amendment to the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill was approved by the House of Representatives in July by voice vote, without objection. It reaffirms an internal policy that has guided the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) since 1987, reflecting a common-sense understanding that no member of the human race at any stage of development is merely an invention or property to be licensed, bought and sold.
Tragically, some researchers want to patent and market human embryos with certain genetic profiles as models for studying diseases with genetic roots. Their project may well succeed unless Congress provides clear and explicit support for the current administrative policy against patenting human embryos.
Because the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has criticized the Weldon amendment for supposedly being overbroad, Senator Brownback has offered helpful added language to make clear exactly what the amendment does and does not cover. To be sure, even this may not be acceptable to BIO, which has argued that a human being should be patentable as an "invention" if he or she has been changed by "human intervention" or was conceived by anything other than "conventional reproduction" (www.bio.org/ip/cloningfactsheet.asp). However, Senator Brownback's language responds to any possible legitimate objection to the amendment.
I urge your strong support for these efforts by Congressman Weldon and Senator Brownback to prevent the commodifying and marketing of fellow human beings.
Cardinal William Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops