Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

We’ll Need Property Rights in a World of Gene-Edited Humans | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on December 20, 2018

One of the pillars of Libertarianism is you own yourself.

…Of course, these are important issues, and luckily for us, we already have the framework of private property rights and individual sovereignty that would work just fine. If we are unable to start from a premise that each individual owns his or her own body, that seems like a major problem to me. If each individual does not own his own body, who does? The issue of children also raises questions that have been dealt with for thousands of years — babies need constant care, children need guidance as they are growing up, and at some point, they become adults, with their own natural rights and bodily ownership. All of this has been covered before by many, including Murray Rothbard (in chapter 7) and Josiah Warren. And, it should be stated that, in this particular case, parental consent was apparently obtained before any of this happened…

The language used to oppose gene-editing technologies with humans is also very telling. For example, a group called the Center for Genetics and Society has long been involved in encouraging “responsible use and regulation of new human genetic and reproductive technologies.” This group has called for an international moratorium on human embryo editing, stating “We’re living in a time when racism and socioeconomic disparities are increasing dramatically” and “The last thing we need is for some biological procedure to fuel the false idea that some groups are biologically superior to others.”

These are certainly all valid concerns. But, if we look back at past statements made on behalf of this group, it becomes a little more clear what they are after. Speaking against state-enforced patent protections for genetic materials (rightly so, because it means that a corporation can, strictly speaking, own a small piece of a person, and often many people), the following murky case was laid out with these initial statements:

Beyond U.S. patent law lie broader questions: Should we treat human genes as private property to be exploited for profit rather than shared resources managed in the public interest? Should we allow corporate ownership to penetrate deeply into areas previously considered outside the commercial realm?

So, considering genes, components that make up who and what we are, as privately owned is negative because they are “exploited for profit,” but having them treated as “shared resources” that are “managed in the public interest” is perfectly fine? Again, who do you trust to be the “manager” if not the individual?

This editorial closed with the even more confused statement, “….it (outlawing human gene patents) would restore our genomic heritage, the very DNA in our bodies, to the rightful owners — the people.” So, putting all this together, everyone has their own DNA, but “the people” somehow need to “restore our genomic heritage” by banning techniques to alter the genes that we somehow all share together?

Even so (and perhaps in light of all this confusion), calls for “oversight” in the US by National Institutes of Health have already begun, even though this appears to be illegal at the US federal level already. Rather than more bureaucratic layers and “sharing” of genetic material, property rights, individual sovereignty, and norms associated with child rearing will work just fine, thank you.


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