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Case Study: Ownership of Genetic Information

A patient named Doug Chambers went to his doctor in hopes of determining the cause of his illness.  After a series of blood, bone marrow, and other tests, Chamber’s physician, Dr. Richards, determined that Chambers had leukemia.  In order to better Chamber’s chances of survival, Dr. Richards suggested that he have a splenectomy to slow the progression of his disease.  Following the advice of his doctor, Chambers decided to proceed with the operation and signed the necessary consent forms for the surgery. The consent form stated that the hospital could “dispose of any severed tissue or member by cremation”, but at no time was it explained to Chambers either by his doctor or the hospital that his tissue could be utilized for research.

After the operation, Dr. Richards discovered that Chamber’s spleen was producing a valuable protein sought after by pharmaceutical companies. He went on to sequence the genome of the cancer cells and discovered the DNA sequence encoding the protein. Dr. Richards marketed the sequence to several companies and obtained a patent for the DNA sequence and subsequent protein.  Dr. Richards, and the company he partnered with, made a large amount of money based on the tissue, cells, and DNA procured from Chambers. Dr. Richards did not disclose any of his activities to Chambers.

Eventually Chambers discovered the full breadth of the situation with his tissue and filed a lawsuit to obtain a share of the profits.

 

If you were the judge in the case, how would you decide?

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This case study is based on events from Moore v. Regents of the University of California. The courts ruled in favor of the doctor. CLICK HERE to learn more.