The Human Genome as Common Heritage of Mankind

Jean Buttigieg

ibidem Press

The Human Genome as Common Heritage of Mankind

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Pub Date: May 2018

ISBN: 9783838211572

280 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $45.00

Pub Date: April 2018

ISBN: 9783838271576

280 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $26.99

The Human Genome as Common Heritage of Mankind

Jean Buttigieg

ibidem Press

In 1997, the UNESCO General Conference declared the human genome a common heritage of humankind. This declaration was followed by the Joint Statement of March 14, 2000, by US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which they stated that the “fundamental data on the human genome, including the human DNA sequence and its variations, should be made freely available to scientists everywhere.” This announcement to allow “unencumbered access” to this fundamental data on the human genome, for the benefit of all humanity, appeared to endorse the UNESCO Declaration of 1997 on the human genome. But as it turns out, these statements were only political slogans since there is a complete lack of any genuine attempts to make the human genome a legal principle of international law so far. This study's foremost goal is to reintroduce the philosophical and political implications of the concept of common heritage of mankind into public discourse, as intended by Arvid Pardo when he addressed the UN General Assembly on November 1, 1967, and apply them to the human genome.

In this timely study, Jean Buttigieg demonstrates the necessity to make it a legal principle of international law that the human genome is a common heritage of mankind. As Buttigieg demonstrates, the biggest challenge here comes from the patent system in its present form, which encourages the commercialization of the human genome by explicitly denying scientists “unencumbered access” to the fundamental raw data. By putting individual rights before community rights, the patent system effectively hinders discoveries that prompt new and better medical treatments. Buttigieg also discusses issues of biotechnology. While the biotechnology debate is very often centered on which new applications of biotechnology should or should not be permitted, it so far lacks a critical philosophical analysis of biotechnology itself. The true essence of the human genome, Buttigieg argues, is to be found in metaphysics and not biology. This study fills a gap in the literature on the human genome and the common heritage of mankind by addressing the metaphysical nature of the human genome and discussing the philosophical concerns surrounding the field of biotechnology.
Jean Buttigieg provides a welcome contribution to an issue that concerns the make-up of humanity, namely the human genome. His philosophical analysis shows the need to provide a metaphysical foundation to scientific research on the human genome so as to challenge the idea that such research belongs to the private and therefore commercially motivated sector. On the contrary, the benefits derived from it belong to all of humanity given that the human genome is part of what Pardo, from whom he draws his inspiration, would have called "the common heritage of mankind." In an era when the differences between humans are emphasized, Buttigieg’s work recuperates the idea that there are some features that are identical to all of humanity. Claude Mangion, University of Malta
The collaborative Human Genome Project yielded several important scientific findings and raised a myriad of questions cutting across disciplinary boundaries. The Human Genome as Common Heritage of Mankind spans the range from patent rights, international law, and the relationship between metaphysics and biology to the Heideggerian view of technology and the ideas of thinkers such as Jonas, Gadamer, and Habermas. Jean Buttigieg’s critique of political slogans, economic profiteering, and technological reductionism paves the way for a convincing argument for the need to extend the international legal principle of the common heritage of humankind, and its concomitant models of governance, to the human genome. Jean Paul De Lucca, director, Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Malta

About the Author

Jean Buttigieg is lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta.