Skip to main content

Human Gene Patents and the Question of Liberal Morality


Since the establishment of the Human Genome Project and the identification of genes in human DNA that play a role in human diseases and disorders, a long, moral and political, battle has began over the extension of IPRs to information contained in human genetic material. According to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, over the past 20 years, large numbers of human genes have been the subject of thousands of patent applications. This paper examines whether human gene patents can be justified in terms of liberal theories of morality such as natural law, personality development, just reward and social utility. It is argued that human gene patents are in conflict with fundamental principles of liberal morality and justice because they result in "genetic information feudalism".

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Theo Papaioannou.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License ( ), which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Papaioannou, T. Human Gene Patents and the Question of Liberal Morality. Life Sci Soc Policy 4, 64 (2008).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: