The so-called Weldon amendment reaffirms an internal policy that has guided the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 1987, "reflecting a common-sense understanding that no member of the human race at any stage of development is merely an 'invention' or property to be licensed, bought and sold," Cardinal Keeler said.
"Tragically, some researchers want to patent and market human embryos with certain genetic profiles as 'models' for studying diseases with genetic roots," the cardinal wrote in his letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and others. "Their project may well succeed unless Congress provides clear and explicit support for the current administrative policy against patenting human embryos."
Cardinal Keeler is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities. The U.S. House of Representatives in July approved the Weldon amendment to the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill.
"Because the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has criticized the Weldon amendment for supposedly being overbroad, Senator Brownback has offered helpful added language to make clear exactly what the amendment does and does not cover," Cardinal Keeler wrote.
"To be sure," he continued, "even this may not be acceptable to BIO, which has argued that a human being should be patentable as an 'invention' if he or she has been changed by 'human intervention' or was conceived by anything other than 'conventional reproduction.' However, Senator Brownback's language responds to any possible legitimate objection to the amendment."