Playing God | Sojourners

Playing God

When this article appeared, Jeremy Rifkin was co-director of the Peoples Business Commission (PBC), a group committed to defining the key issues that will confront the world in the next half century. He is the co-author of Who Should Play God? a source book on genetic engineering.

In the spring of 1980 , PBC filed a legal brief before the Supreme Court on the case Diamond vs. Chakrabarty. At issue was whether General Electric would be allowed to become the first U.S. corporation to be granted a commercial patent on a genetically engineered living organism.

This article was excerpted from Rifkin 's comments in a conversation with Sojourners staff after the court announced its decision.--The Editors

On June 16, 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, five to four, that human-made life forms may be patented. The decision gave companies the go-ahead to create new forms of life and the right to own and control that life for 17 years under patent law. The case before the court involved a new micro-organism created by a scientist working for General Electric. This particular life form had never before existed in nature. The function of the bug was to eat up oil spills; it had a voracious appetite for oil.

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