The Double Nature of DNA: Reevaluating the Common Heritage Idea

Journal of Political Philosophy 24 (1):47-66 (2016)
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DNA possesses a double nature: it is both an analog chemical compound and a digital carrier of information. By distinguishing these two aspects, this paper aims to reevaluate the legally and politically influential idea that the human genome forms part of the common heritage of mankind, an idea which is thought to conflict with the practice of patenting DNA. The paper explores the lines of reasoning that lead to the common heritage idea, articulates and motivates what emerges as the most viable version of it, and assesses the extent to which this version conflicts with gene-patenting practices as exemplified by the U.S. regime. It concludes that the genome is best thought of as a repository of information to which humanity has a fiduciary relationship, and that on this view, the perceived conflict with gene-patenting largely dissolves.
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