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(May 2, 2002, Gazette)

Views on the name change

Dear Editor,
The April 11, 2002, issue of the Gazette contained an article on a recent series of public presentations concerning the commercialization of human genetic research in this province. As a member of the group that organized these sessions, I am grateful for the coverage, but would like to clear up a misunderstanding that may be caused by the article.

The presentations occurred as part of an ongoing project that aims to provide recommendations to the provincial government as to how commercial genetic research should be regulated in this province. In preparation for these presentations, Dr. Daryl Pullman and I prepared a preliminary project report that was presented at one of the sessions described in the Gazette article. At one point, the article quotes me as saying that this report leans towards endorsing the view that human DNA is a form of private property and so the province should regulate commercial human genetic research by creating a provincial agency that would advise individual residents of the province as to what would constitute a fair return for their participation in genetic research.

In fact, while this is a model our report mentions when describing a variety of possible approaches to governing commercial human genetic research, it is a model that is rejected in the report. Rather than viewing human DNA as private property, our report draws the conclusion that human DNA does not fit neatly into any of our usual categories. As the article later notes, we claim that human DNA in some ways resembles a personal possession, in others a natural resource and, in yet others, the common heritage of humanity.

This leads us to the conclusion that what is appropriate is not individual payment for participation in research, but payment to a collective, perhaps the province as a whole or perhaps a group representing those who suffer from a particular medical condition. By taking this approach, it is possible for residents of the province to share the financial returns that commercial human genetic research may deliver without thereby declaring human DNA to be just another tradable commodity.

I should add that any conclusions reached in the draft report of our project are only preliminary ones. Our final report will not be produced until late summer and the view taken in it may be quite different than the one we are presently leaning towards. This is particularly true due to the many helpful comments Dr. Pullman and I received from audience members at various sessions the Gazette article reported on, as well as from our fellow presenters, Dr. Henry Greely and Timothy Caulfield.

Anyone wishing to discuss the project further is encouraged to contact me at 777-6720 or

Andrew Latus
Post-doctoral fellow, Medical Ethics
Faculty of Medicine