Friday, April 12, 2013

Two more big Supreme Court cases -- April 15th -- breast cancer patients vs. big business

This coming week sees two important cases in the Supreme Court.  The one about parents I'll get to in my next post.  The first one, set for argument Monday, is not about family law at all.  But if you are reading this and you are over 40 you almost certainly know a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  If you're over 60, you almost certainly know someone who has died of breast cancer, and it may seem to you -- as it does to me -- that every month someone else I know is diagnosed.  One in nine women.  That is a lot of cancer.

The case before the Court, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc, is a patent case.  It's about whether Myriad can properly hold a patent on the BRCA genes that determine much about a woman's risk of breast cancer (and to a lesser extent ovarian cancer).  They have that patent now, as a result of which the test for the gene costs thousands of dollars (and often is not covered by insurance).   Scotusblog explains the legal issues in (relatively) plain English for us non-scientists here.  Basically, the argument is whether a gene is natural, in which case it cannot be patented.  If it seems too obvious for words that our genes are natural and not human invention, well, the success of Myriad Genetics so far is more evidence of the triumph of capitalism over public good.

Breast Cancer Action, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Myriad's patent, has much information about it on its website.  Here is a conversation with one of its lawyers.  Here is a description by BCA's executive director of the organization's involvement in the case.  Here is BCA's testimony at a hearing before the US Patent and Trademark Office. BCA was one of the original plaintiifs, unafraid to take on Big Pharma in its pursuit to put the needs of breast cancer patients first (something not all breast cancer groups do.)  Its website also contains the statements of many women about how Myriad's patent deprives them of information they need for their own health.

If you will be in DC on Monday, BCA is organizing a rally at the Supreme Court.  Join them.  Learn more, and help support all the work of BCA, at an event Monday evening.

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