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Patents for All

The American Medical Association stands with healthcare providers, labs, researchers, and cancer patients who say that gene sequences isolated from the body should not be patentable, but not all doctors agree with this position.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons filed an amicus brief this week with the US Supreme Court in the lawsuit, Association for Molecular Pathology et al. v Myriad Genetics et al., in which plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation are challenging Myriad's patents on isolated gene sequences. The Supreme Court hearing is slated for April 15.

"This Supreme Court case ... has become a sweeping attempt by the ACLU, the American Medical Association, and the Obama Administration to invalidate property rights for much medical innovation," the AAPS wrote in a statement. The organization urged the court to "limit its inquiry to the narrow claims in this case, rather than using it as a means to exclude vast areas of medical research from patent protection."

By contrast, the AMA has taken an anti-gene patenting stance. "The AMA is opposed to gene patenting because it has the potential to inhibit access to genetic testing for patients and hinder research on genetic disease," the association, which is historically one of the most medical powerful lobbies in Washington, states on its website.

In supporting gene patents, the AAPS also says it is taking the position that will benefit patients. "The incentives created by such patents [on genetic and medical research] are essential to encourage medical innovation that saves patients' lives," the organization states. "Patents, like other forms of private property, are essential to progress. Valuable cures are being developed based on patents in many medical fields, including adult stem cells — cures that would not be possible without the incentives established by patents."

Beyond gene patenting, the AAPS stands ideologically apart from the AMA on many issues. The AAPS, founded in 1943, is founded on principles of limited government and backs policies that would "preserve the practice of private medicine." The group's website includes a statement from past-president Lee Hielb in which he notes that the AMA and other physician-focused societies no longer espouse principles he holds dear, including "individual liberty, personal responsibility, limited government, and the ability to freely practice medicine according to time honored Hippocratic principles."

Following the Supreme Court's decision last year that the individual health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, the AAPS issued the following statement: "This is a bleak day for America. The US Supreme Court has upheld a blatantly unconstitutional law of enormous scope that affects every American. The federal government has no constitutional authority to dictate how Americans shall pay for their medical care." The association further urged doctors to not "betray their patients" by signing up for Accountable Care Organizations, which are being established under healthcare law provisions and would require doctors in these organizations to meet certain quality metrics and reduce the total cost of patient care.