Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gene Patents

For those of you interested in whether human genes can be patented . . . the Supreme Court has just issued a couple of important decisions on this topic. This is from an article I wrote for my law school's newspaper. It will be interesting to see what happens next with these cases . . .

In March 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions which will have a significant impact on the ability to patent human genes. On March 20th, the Court discarded patents owned by Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., a company based in San Diego, CA, that develops diagnostic tests designed to promote individualized patient care. The company’s patents had been issued for various blood tests that examine the body’s reaction to certain drugs to better determine safe and effective dosages. Justice Stephen Breyer, who authored the opinion in the case, explained that the company’s testing methods simply observed naturally occurring phenomena and were not sufficiently inventive to justify patent protection.

Following this decision on March 26th, the Supreme Court invalidated patents for certain isolated genes known to increase the risk of several cancers. The two genes in question, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been isolated by Myriad Genetics, a molecular research company in Salt Lake City, UT. Myriad designed a method which examines DNA taken from these genes for the presence of mutations that can lead to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Patents on these genes would prevent other laboratories from using the genes for similar procedures and could greatly increase costs for individuals who need to assess their genetic risks of developing the cancers.

Myriad’s patents on the genes were overturned earlier in U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet’s 2010 ruling, in which he ruled that the mere isolation of strands of DNA does not change the DNA from its naturally occurring state and thus does not warrant a patent. However, in July 2011, a federal appeals court which handles patent cases reversed this ruling in a 2-to-1 decision, claiming that isolated DNA has a very different chemical structure from DNA naturally existing in the body. The most recent ruling will send the Myriad case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for rehearing, but the litigation may not reach a conclusion for several years.

Throughout the Myriad case, the controversy focused on whether individual human genes, as isolated sequences of DNA, are inventions that are worthy of patent protection or merely products of nature. Although gene patents are a relatively new development, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued over 2,500 patents for isolated DNA sequences in the past thirty years. Gene patents are expected to have a major impact on the emerging area known as “personalized medicine.” In this field, doctors use individualized procedures to establish whether patients are likely to contract certain diseases, or whether they would respond well to certain types of medications. Advocates of the patents claim that a lack of patent protection could reduce incentives for the development of personalized medicine. Many products in this field would be unprofitable if innovative research efforts were not rewarded with patent protection.

Although the personalized medicine and biotechnology industries tend to support gene patents, many doctors, patients, and researchers believe that the patents will ultimately hinder genetic research and render important medical procedures prohibitively expensive. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the initial lawsuit against Myriad, has argued throughout the case that the gene patents will raise costs for patients and prevent them from obtaining a second opinion on their diagnoses. Opponents of the patents also assert that patent holders could eventually gain monopolies on new research in certain diseases and in particular areas of patient care.

While the final outcome of the Myriad case is uncertain, the ACLU has expressed confidence that the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the patents owned by Prometheus Laboratories predicts a similar ruling on the validity of Myriad’s patents. However, representatives for Myriad believe their patents are fundamentally different, because they pertain to the isolated genes themselves rather than to the testing methodology previously covered by the Prometheus patents. Regardless of the outcome, the legal and scientific issues related to gene patents will play a major role in the future of medical research and patient care.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Gap Filled By Grace

Have you ever compared what you deserve from God with what God actually gives you? Recently,
I sensed God nudging my heart to just consider, for a moment, not what it is that I get from Him but what it is that I deserve in my relationship with Him. Because in truth, a life with a God who loves us is something none of us deserve! If what you get has to be based on what your actions deserve then....we deserve rejection from God because we reject Him so often. We deserve for Him to ignore our needs because we repeatedly ignore his commands. We deserve for God to seek after anything BUT a relationship with us, because we often treat Him as our last resort when nothing else has succeeded in filling our lives or hearts. We deserve brokenness for when we break the heart of God through our choices. We deserve for God to turn us away because we turn Him away. Regularly.

But I thank God that the economy of grace is not based on what we deserve!! Frankly, it's not even based on what we do. 2 Timothy 2:13 says that if we are faithless, he will REMAIN FAITHFUL to us. That is the gospel for the faithless. For those who fail. For those who have rejected God time and again but yet find themselves still longing for His embrace. It's for people who get tired and worn out from the cutthroat competition of our merit- and achievement-based world. Who long for a relationship where our actions can't change God's character. People like you and me. It's for people who want a sphere of existence that isn't dominated by achievement. That has nothing to do with the success that is ubiquitously craved in the surrounding world. Where we don't have to constantly DO or ATTAIN or STRIVE for favor. Scripture says that God's love and favor surround those who are righteous. At first, that may seem as if it takes us right back to exactly what we're trying to get away from--a world where we have to do certain things and be certain kinds of people to be loved. I've certainly been captive to that kind of thinking before. Because how can we ever be righteous?

1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 30, answers that question more beautifully than I ever could. It says, "Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption." I don't know about you, but I can't add anything to that. Jesus IS righteousness for us. When I think about that, trying to earn God's favor seems pointless--if we trust Christ yet still find ourselves falling into the trap of trying to "earn" God's favor, then we are seeking to attain a position that WE ALREADY HAVE. Because we are covered in Christ's righteousness, we are in total right standing with God and our so-called "merit" is thrown out the window. Because we don't even need it anymore!

So, usually, when someone says, "you deserve better," it's kind of like saying, well, it stinks for you, because you didn't GET anything better. It prompts people to think about the gap between what they got and what they deserved, and that gap is often filled with regret and frustration.
Not so when I think of what I deserve versus what I get in my relationship with God. There is a HUGE gap between the rejection my actions deserve from God and the life I'm able to live through Christ. A life where, as one of my favorite songs puts it, the amazing is so ordinary and mercy overflows. And in this analysis of the "what I deserve" versus "what I get" I find that that extraordinary gap is filled by abundant grace.

Friday, March 23, 2012


This is a great quote I read recently:

"Not even waste is inviolate. The day misspent, the love misplaced, has inside it the seed of redemption. Nothing is exempt from resurrection." --Kay Ryan

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Disagreement, Tolerance, and Love

There's a Rick Warren quote that I read recently that really struck a chord with me. He said, "Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."

I couldn't agree more with this statement. He really hit the nail on the head. This is something I've mentally been trying to articulate for a long time but have not known how to put it into words. I see the cultural lies that Rick Warren is talking about ALL the time. We live in a day and age where, in a very real sense, disagreeing with someone or stating that what they are doing is wrong is denounced as hateful and judgmental. To me, this is absolutely illogical. Some things don't present any moral controversy at all. For instance, I'm quite certain anyone would agree that murder is wrong. As such, I doubt anyone would call me hateful if I, given the opportunity to talk to a murderer, told them that what they had done was wrong. Other areas of life are much more controversial and people entertain a lot of different views about what is right and wrong with respect to them (for instance, about abortion, marriage, and parenting, to name a few things). It is in these and similar areas, and only these areas, that people can't disagree with others on a moral basis without risking being shot down as being hateful or fearful of the differing view. I do not believe that everyone must come to the SAME moral conclusions about these topics--after all, that's why they are so controversial. But I believe there is a lot more room in our society for people to respect others' rights to hold incredibly different views, without claiming that those who disagree are hateful or judgmental. Frankly, that's a victim mentality that doesn't get you anywhere. Moreover, it is immature to assume that others who disagree with you are out to get you simply because they think that what you believe or what you do is wrong.

At the same time, with the rise of political correctness and our ever-increasing cultural obsession with never offending anyone for any reason, American culture has embraced "tolerance" as the one be-all, end-all ideal. My ideas on this have been informed by books I've read on the subject, so this is not all just my own thinking, but here are some opinions I have regarding tolerance.

First, it is considered a terrible thing today to be "intolerant." I honestly think that our society would deem an accusation of intolerance to be one of the worst kinds of insults you could cast on an individual. Intolerance is anathema to a society that never wants to offend anyone--and intolerance, by and large, is equated with hate.

Here's where it breaks down for me, though. Isn't it true that in everyday language, we say we "tolerate" things that we DON'T like--not things that we readily love, endorse, and embrace? It would be weird for me to say, "I tolerate pizza," because I really like pizza. I wouldn't say, "I tolerate my family," because I LOVE them. Intolerance is equated with hate, but we dare not equate tolerance with love. We don't need to "tolerate" things we love, because we love them. In terms of the way we actually use language on a day-to-day basis, saying, "Oh yeah, I tolerate those people/ those views/ her politics/ his lifestyle" actually says to me, "You know, I really don't like or agree with so-and-so at all but I'm going to act ok with it because I don't want to rock the boat." In that sense, tolerating anyone and anything doesn't seem as honorable and desirable as our culture portrays it to be.

I think a lot of people in our society have chosen to tolerate everything but believe nothing. We've lost the willingness to stand up for what we believe is right, because we're scared of the cultural backlash. We've bought into the lie that tolerance, rather than genuine love, is one of the highest ideals we can express. And in so doing, we've really replaced love for our neighbor with tolerating our neighbor. If real love for other people is as powerful as I believe it is, it should be able to withstand a little bit--or a lot--of disagreement! Love doesn't mean never telling someone that they are wrong. Love doesn't mean there are no boundaries, and it doesn't mean "leave your opinions at the front door because they're not welcome inside." Loving others involves a genuine compassion and care for who they are as people, and it should never be traded for a weak, watered-down idea we call tolerance.

But that's just my two cents--feel free to disagree!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Freeing Imprisonment

In Zechariah 9:12, the Lord says to His people, "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." When I first read this some time ago, I became completely intrigued because this is one of the only times I'm aware of in Scripture when God's people are called prisoners and are instructed to remain that way. Prisoners of hope, no less.In today's world, I regularly interact with people who feel imprisoned, captured, and trapped by anything but hope. People who are imprisoned by worry. Anger. Despair. Bitterness. Regret. Meaninglessness. Unforgiveness. Even by a negative, complaining spirit that prompts them to always expect the worst. More than that, we live in a culture and a time that offers people a lot of excuses for staying in this type of bondage. Anyone can see that times are difficult and for many people, hope has become all but a distant memory. They are, it seems, willing to remain in their bondage. Too drained and, in fact, hopeless, to keep fighting for a way out of it.

The imagery in Zechariah is so striking because it is imagery of bondage and imprisonment. But to HOPE, not despair! It is an image which speaks of a hope so strong, so personal, so intense, that we are captured by it, imprisoned by it, and cannot get away from it. Drowning in it. But yet if Jesus is our true hope, is this not in fact the way things are? We should be unable to escape our hope because we cannot get away from Christ! He is our only sure and reliable hope.

I find this passage so encouraging because it speaks of this different kind of imprisonment, one which frees, and because it also promises restoration--something many people are desperately in need of today. "Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." For all that we have lost. For all our brokenness. For all our heartbreak. We will be restored to a place that is better than what we had before. Given twice as much for our losses. Even now. The restoration can begin now, if we allow it to. Are we open to restoration?

Are we willing to let Jesus Christ--our Hope--break the chains which strip us of our freedom, and instead allow us to be captured and imprisoned only by hope? That's a bondage we can live with. And live in. Abundantly, even now. And then our true, much-needed restoration of our hearts and our lives can begin.

I might add that I make every effort not to write with cliches. I can't even try to act as if some of the very real sorrows, heartbreak, and bondage of the world can be solved if we simply open ourselves up to "hope." I do not endorse the "prosperity gospel" at all and don't want to give people the impression that believing in Christ will just make all their problems go away. I find the words of Scripture deeply encouraging, but I recognize that they can't just be given to people as a "spiritual Band-Aid" to be placed on the broken, hurting, damaged parts of their lives. That is not enough. No, it's definitely not enough.

But I DO write with confidence as someone who has encountered Jesus Christ in a personal way many times, and who now finds my strength and hope by living in a daily relationship with Him. I have seen Him slowly but surely restore me from many instances of bondage, grief, and brokenness, and I strongly believe that He has the power to do the same for anyone who is reading this. He has brought me through very dark places in my life and brought me to the realization that trusting Him gives me the grace I need to make it through each day, although my problems don't just disappear, and yours may not either. We still live in a hurting, damaged world. But we have access to hope. We have promises that restoration is available to us, although we may not always know what it's going to look like. I'm willing to believe that the restoration that comes through Christ is worth waiting for, and that the hope He offers is worth being captured by. Because He IS enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Weekend

Today I did something I've always wanted to do . . . drove home for the weekend without telling my parents I was coming, and got to totally surprise them. It was so much fun!

My sister was going home for the weekend too, and my parents knew that she was coming, although she told them she'd be getting there a lot later Friday night than she actually planned to. I hadn't been planning to go home at all, but I talked to Mom on Tuesday and could just tell she really wanted me to come back. I would normally never go for just the weekend . . . it's almost a 6-hour drive and we all know how much gas costs these days. But as soon as I got off the phone, I started thinking about how much fun it would be and how special it would be for my parents if I just came home anyway, without telling them ahead of time.

At first, I was going to surprise my sister too, but then decided to tell her ahead of time and we planned the whole thing out. She told Mom and Dad she'd be getting in around 11 tonight, even though she really planned to be here about 6:30. I skipped my last class, left all the work behind for the weekend (I mean, it will still be there when I come back), and drove home. My sister and I figured out where my parents were having dinner tonight, and we both walked in together to the restaurant around 7pm and surprised them there. The look on their faces was priceless! They never had ANY idea that I was coming home, and they weren't expecting my sister for hours. I've never tried to surprise them like this before, so they had absolutely no clue. It was great. I'm so glad I came, and am looking forward to a good weekend. I know I didn't really have time to come home and have way too much to do this weekend, but it's going to be good for me to get away anyway. It's really easy to let law school take over your life, and I need to remember that I have to get away once in awhile just to stay balanced. Looking forward to a good weekend. :)