U.S Supreme Court Says Human Gene Cannot Be Patented in Myriad Case #Goodnews


Mixed Ruling on BRCA1 Mutation Linked to Breast Cancer

‘My DNA’: Lisa Schlager addresses protesters outside the Supreme Court. The court issued a mixed ruling in a case involving patenting of human genes.

‘My DNA’: Lisa Schlager addresses protesters outside the Supreme Court. The court issued a mixed ruling in a case involving patenting of human genes.

courtesy of lisa schlager
‘My DNA: Lisa Schlager addresses protesters outside the Supreme Court. The court issued a mixed ruling in a case involving patenting of human genes.

By Reuters

Published June 13, 2013.

In a first of its kind ruling on human genes, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday decided that synthetically produced genetic material can be patented but naturally occurring DNA extracted from the human body cannot.

The nine justices handed a partial victory to Salt Lake City, Utah-based biotechnology company Myriad Genetics Inc , which holds the patents in question. But the rights group that challenged the patents also found reason to be pleased.

The biotechnology industry had warned that an expansive ruling against Myriad could threaten billions of dollars of investment.

The contentious, uniquely 21st century question before the court was whether any human genes can ever be patented – meaning the holders have exclusive rights to their intellectual property for a defined period.

The court, in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled that a synthetically produced genetic material made by scientists, known as cDNA, can be patented but that genes extracted from the human body, known as isolated DNA, do not merit the same legal protections.

The compromise outcome, which was urged by the Obama administration, will have less impact on Myriad. The Myriad patents in dispute will all expire by 2015.

Myriad’s shares jumped 10 percent to $37.47 after the ruling was issued.

The ruling means some of Myriad’s patents involving cDNA will likely survive, but the parties disagreed on that point.

The case arose when a group of medical researchers, associations and patients – represented by the American Civil Liberties Union – filed suit in 2009, saying human genes, including synthetically produced material, should not be patented.

They challenged seven patents owned by or licensed to Myriad on two genes – called BRCA1 and BRCA2 – linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed at the Supreme Court.

“Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation,” said Sandra Park of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents on at least 4,000 human genes to companies, universities and others that have discovered and decoded them. Patents now cover some 40 percent of the human genome, according to one study.

ANGELINA JOLIE MASTECTOMY

The question was whether the genes Myriad patented concerned its successful isolation of the two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Mutations detected in the genes can help determine heightened risk of breast cancer. Myriad’s work in the area, including a screening test, gained worldwide attention this year when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had a double mastectomy after undergoing a test and finding she had a risk of developing breast cancer.

In the court’s opinion, Thomas wrote that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was wrong to find that isolated human DNA and cDNA were both patent eligible.

Under the federal Patent Act, an inventor can obtain a patent on various new processes and products but “laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas” are not patentable.

Thomas wrote that cDNA “does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring isolated DNA segments.”

In examining the differences between the two, Thomas concluded that cDNA is not naturally occurring. A laboratory technician, he wrote, “unquestionably creates something new when cDNA is made.”

Thomas noted so-called method patents, which concern technical procedures for carrying out a certain process, are not affected by the ruling.

The decision will stop the practice of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granting patents to companies that isolate DNA but will allow patents for firms that build DNA from its basic chemicals, said Ed Reines, of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

“The patent office was granting patents on isolated biological composition, such as DNA (for years). That will not be happening in the future,” Reines said.

“Given recent Supreme Court skepticism in the patent area, it is not surprising,” he added. “There shouldn’t be much in this decision that surprises industry or the financial markets.”

 

America’s private prison system is a national disgrace


Jill Filipovic

An ACLU lawsuit against a prison in Mississippi is the latest to detail flagrant abuses at a private correctional facility

Jill Filipovic

Thursday 13 June 2013

guardian.co.uk

The privatization of traditional government functions – and big government payments to private contractors – isn’t limited to international intelligence operations like the National Security Agency. It’s happening with little oversight in dozens of areas once the province of government, from schools to airports to the military. The shifting of government responsibilities to private actors isn’t without consequence, as privatization often comes with a lack of oversight and a series of abuses. One particularly stunning example is the American prison system, the realities of which should be a national disgrace.

Some of those realities are highlighted in a recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). EMCF houses severely mentally ill prisoners, with the supposed intent of providing both incarceration and treatment. Instead, the ACLU contends, the facility, which is operated by private contractors, is rife with horrific abuses. As the ACLU states, it is

“an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions and their basic human rights are violated daily.”

The complaint lists a litany of such horrors, but here are a few highlights: rampant rapes. Placing prisoners in solitary confinement for weeks, months or even years at a time, where the only way to get a guard’s attention in an emergency is to set a fire. Rat infestations so bad that vermin crawl over prisoners; sometimes, the rats are captured, put on leashes and sold as pets to the most severely mentally ill inmates. Many suicide attempts, some successful. The untreated mentally ill throw feces, scream, start fires, electrocute themselves and self-mutilate. Denying or delaying treatment for infections and even cancer. Stabbings, beatings and other acts of violence. Juveniles being housed with adults, including one 16-year-old who was sexually assaulted by his adult cell mate. Malnourishment and chronic hunger. Officers who deal with prisoners by using physical violence.

One prisoner allegedly attempted to hang himself. He was cut down by guards, given oxygen and put on supervision, but wasn’t taken to an emergency room, let alone given psychiatric care during the suicide watch. Without seeing a psychiatrist, his medication dosage was increased.

A severely ill 16-year-old with “a long history of being physically and sexually abused in addition to suffering from a traumatic brain injury, limited intellectual functioning, self-harm, and psychosis” was moved to EMCF from a juvenile detention center. His cell allegedly had a broken lock, and so other prisoners were able to enter. Five or six of them beat him. He was moved to a solitary confinement unit and, when he voiced his suicidal ideations and asked to see a psychiatrist, was deemed “manipulating to be moved”.

Another told prison mental health staff that he was depressed and thinking about about suicide. The treatment plan from the prison psychologist was reportedly three words: “encourage behavioral compliance”. After being asked to provide a urine specimen, which he could not give because of a health condition, the ACLU reports:

Mr. Roe began banging on his door, smeared blood on the cell door window, threatened to commit suicide, and tied a rope around his neck. Officers sprayed excessive amounts of Mace in his cell. According to witnesses, officers waited approximately 20 minutes before pulling Mr. Roe out of his cell. By that time, he was non-responsive and cyanotic. He was taken, his hands and feet bound by zip-ties, to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

For several days after Mr. Roe’s death, medical staff continued to ‘document’ in the daily segregation log that Mr. Roe appeared to be ‘in good health and mood.'”

These kinds of abuses are not relegated to a single prison, but they also aren’t inherent in any detention system. In the United States, though, they’re business as usual. Our prison system is increasingly built and run by for-profit corporations, who have a financial interest in increasing the number of people in prison while decreasing the amount of money it costs to house them.

Since 1980, the US prison population has grown by 790%. We have the largest prison population of any nation in the history of the world. One in three African-American men will go to jail at some point in his life. Imprisoning that many people, most of them for non-violent offenses, doesn’t come cheap, especially when you’re paying private contractors. The United States now spends $50bn on our corrections system every year.

Much of that money goes to private contractors, who are doing quite well living off of American corporate welfare – at the expense of the American taxpayer, whose dollars are funding this mass incarceration project. Large-scale imprisonment isn’t making us any safer, either. But it is putting small-time non-violent individuals – drug users and dealers – in close contact with more hardened criminals and making it significantly more difficult for them to find decent work after their release. That’s a perfect recipe for recidivism, not rehabilitation.

Prisons, as demonstrated by the ACLU case, have also become de facto mass institutions for the mentally ill, except without the oversight that pure psychiatric facilities face. With states tightening their budgets, mental health care is being cut even further. While the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crimes than victimizers, they are imprisoned at disproportionate rates, and often lack meaningful mental healthcare in prison and even face conditions that exacerbate their diseases, like solitary confinement and total squalor. We’re effectively taking some of the most vulnerable members of society and subjecting them to ongoing torture.

We have so demonized criminals in the United States that there’s widespread acceptance of the fact that jail in modern day America means rapes, beatings, vermin, filth and abuse. But to what end? “Criminals” are punished, yes – brutally, and in ways that should repel and shame us. But rehabilitation isn’t happening in these facilities. Crime isn’t being deterred; if anything, it’s being fostered.

The American public is losing out. The only winners are the private companies who are still awarded contracts to build and maintain more prisons, and who throw their weight behind politicians who promote the supposedly “tough on crime” measures that ensure those prisons are full.

There are many ways to punish crime and protect the public. Ceding our humanity doesn’t have to be one of them.

 

US: A nation of inmates? #prison


We examine the impact of America’s high incarceration rate on its penal system and on poor and minority communities.
 Last Modified: 20 Feb 2013 09:52

There are more prisoners in the US than any other nation in the world.

The country makes up five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for 25 percent of its prison population. And over the last three decades the number held in US federal prisons has jumped by nearly 80 percent.

There has been in this country over the last 30 years a relentless upward climb in the incarcerated population and disturbing as the situation is with the federal prison system, that is really only the tip of the iceberg because the federal prison system is only about 10 percent of the total number of people incarcerated in this country. On any given day, we have about 2.3 million people behind bars in federal, state and local facilities.

- David Fathi, ACLU National Prison Project

The number of inmates in US federal prisons has increased from about 25,000 in 1980 to 219,000 in 2012, according to a report by the US Congressional Research Service.

The report says the federal prison system was 39 percent over its capacity in 2011. And the situation is worse for high and medium security male facilities.

High-security prisons were overcrowded by 51 percent, while medium security prisons were overcrowded by 55 percent in 2011.

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, overcrowding has contributed to worse safety and security conditions for both inmates and staff.

The overcrowded facilities have contributed to a multibillion dollar demand for private prisons. The industry argues it is helping the government save money. But others argue that for-profit prisons only increase the incentive to incarcerate more people.

Almost half of those incarcerated in federal prisons are drug offenders. Another 16 percent of inmates are in prison for offences related to weapons, explosives and arson. Those convicted of immigration violations make up 12 percent of the federal prison population.

Policy makers have come to the realisation, on a state and federal level, that you can’t necessarily build yourself out of a crime situation, that we just can’t continue at these numbers to incarcerate people, and the impact on state budgets and the money spent on a federal level to deal with mass incarceration has just left us in a lot of ways unprotected in other areas.

- Matthew Mangino, a former DA in Pennsylvania

And the impact of mass imprisonment spreads far beyond the prison walls.

Sociologists have found that the rise in incarceration rates reduce social mobility and ensure both prisoners and their families remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.

In the US, minorities make up over 70 percent of the federal prison population.

Demographically, African-Americans – who represent 12 percent of the US population – make up 37 percent of federal prisoners.

And Latinos – who are 16 percent of the population – make up 35 percent of prisoners.

So, what is the impact of the high incarceration rate on the US penal system and on poor communities?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas with presenter Shihab Rattansi is joined by guests: David Fathi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project; Matthew Mangino, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania; and Marc Mauer, the executive director of The Sentencing Project, and author of the book Race to Incarcerate.


THE US PRISON INDUSTRY

  • It is increasingly more expensive to maintain the federal prison system
  • Per capita prisoner costs rose from $19,571 in 2000 to $26,094 in 2011
  • Bureau of prisons has backlog of 154 modernisation and repair projects
  • More offences subject to mandatory minimum sentences since the 1980s
  • Mandatory sentences have pushed up inmate numbers for drug offences
  • More crimes have been made federal offences since early 1980s
  • Crime rates in the US have been falling since the early 1990s
  • Sentencing project: prisoners in US declined by about 1.5 percent in 2011
  • Some US states have moved to reduce overcrowding in prisons
  • Supreme court ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding in 2011
  • Budget crises have prompted states to reduce overcrowding in prisons
  • For-profit companies control 18 percent of US federal prisoners
  • For-profit companies control 6.7 percent of all US state prisoners
  • Most new prisons built between 2000 and 2005 are privately run
  • Corrections corporation of America is largest private prison operator

 

Oklahoma Judge sentences youth in drunk driving to 10 years church attendance #wtfnews


 

By 
Published: November 21, 2012

Initially there was little outcry in Muskogee, Oklahoma., last week when a judge, as a condition of a youth’s probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction, sentenced him to attend church regularly for 10 years.

James Gibbard for The New York Times

Judge Mike Norman, in his Muskogee courtroom, seemed surprised by the scrutiny. “I sentenced him to go to church for 10 years because I thought I could do that,” he said.

The judge, Mike Norman, 67, had sentenced people to church before, though never for such a serious crime.

But as word of the ruling spread in state and national legal circles, constitutional experts condemned it as a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would file a complaint against Judge Norman with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints, an agency that investigates judicial misconduct, seeking an official reprimand or other sanctions.

“We see a judge who has shown disregard for the First Amendment of the Constitution in his rulings,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the civil liberties union branch in Oklahoma.

The 17-year-old defendant, Tyler Alred, was prosecuted as a youthful offender, giving the judge more discretion than in an adult case. Mr. Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter for an accident last year, when he ran his car into a tree and a 16-year-old passenger was killed.

Although his alcohol level tested below the legal limit, because he was under age he was legally considered to be under the influence of alcohol. Mr. Alred told the court that he was happy to agree to church attendance and other mandates — including that he finish high school and train as a welder, and shun alcohol, drugs and tobacco for a year. By doing so, he is avoiding a 10-year prison sentence and has a chance to make a fresh start.

But his acquiescence does not change the law, Mr. Kiesel and others pointed out. “Alternative sentencing is something that should be encouraged, but there are many options that don’t violate the Constitution,” Mr. Kiesel said. “A choice of going to prison or to church — that is precisely the type of coercion that the First Amendment seeks to prevent.”

Mr. Alred and his family already attend a church, although Judge Norman said in an interview that he had not known that when he ruled.

The judge said he was surprised at the criticism. “I feel like church is important,” he said. “I sentenced him to go to church for 10 years because I thought I could do that.”

He added, “I am satisfied that both the families in this case think we’ve made the right decision,” and noted that the dead boy’s father had tearfully hugged Mr. Alred in the courtroom. If Mr. Alred stops attending church or violates any other terms of his probation, Judge Norman said, he will send him to prison.

As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.”

Judge Norman did not specify which religious denomination Mr. Alred must follow. But he also said: “I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.”

Randall T. Coyne, a professor of criminal law at the University of Oklahoma, agreed that the judge’s church requirement was unconstitutional. But unless the defendant fights the ruling, he said, civil liberties advocates have no way to challenge it in court, leaving the complaint to the judicial review agency as their only option.

Over the years, several judges around the country have mandated church attendance as part of sentences, sometimes stirring criticism. In the early 1990s in Louisiana, Judge Thomas P. Quirk ordered hundreds of defendants in traffic and misdemeanor cases to attend church once a week for a year. The judge said that he had imposed the condition only on people who agreed to it, and that it provided a good alternative to sending defendants to overcrowded jails or imposing fines they could not afford.

The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana found that Judge Quirk had engaged in knowing violations of the Constitution and recommended that he be suspended without pay for 12 months. But the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that while the judge might have erred, he did not engage in “judicial misconduct,” and it rescinded the sanctions.

In 2011, the city of Bay Minette, Ala., required first-time misdemeanor offenders to choose between doing jail time and attending church weekly for a year. The city dropped the program after the American Civil Liberties Union called it unconstitutional.