Opinion: Havasupai blood case marks a loss for science

"The compensation awarded to the Havasupai Indians is a victory for an isolated ethnic tribe. Its impact on medical research is harder to discern at this early stage but could be devastating.

DNA is a waste product. We shed it all the time. It carries our personal information which can identify us but provided it is anonymised, no harm is done. If a scientist collects it and can do something useful with it, we should celebrate their achievement.

The trickier question is what happens when a scientist uses an individual's or – as in this case – a tribe's DNA to create something with commercial value. Scientists cannot patent DNA per se – it occurs naturally – but if they can add intellectual value to it, it may become a saleable property.

There is no evidence that this happened to the DNA supplied by the Havasupai Indians. Instead they feared that the information it yielded could damage their interests, for example by undermining their claim to their tribal lands. As a result they have won compensation on the basis that research was done on their DNA to which they did not consent."

Get the Story:
Jeremy Laurance: Victory for tribe, defeat for science (The Independent 4/23)

Also Today:
Blood feud in the Grand Canyon (The Independent 4/23)
Grand Canyon tribe accepts 'genetic piracy' settlement (The Telegraph 4/23)
Havasupai Tribe Win Nice Settlement From ASU In Scandalous Blood-Sample Case (The Phoenix New-Times 4/22)
ABOR settles lawsuit with Havasupai tribe over blood samples (The State Press 4/22)

Arizona Appeals Court Decision:
Havasupai Tribe v. Arizona Board of Regents (November 30, 2008)

Related Stories:
Researcher denies wrongdoing in Havasupai blood case (4/22)
Havasupai Tribe resolves suit over use of blood samples (4/21)
Arizona court to hear appeal in Havasupai blood case (4/21)
New Times: Good news for Havasupai blood case (12/16)
Editorial: Cultures collide in Havasupai lawsuit (12/5)
Havasupai Tribe seeks justice in research lawsuit (12/2)
Higher Ed: In Havasupai suit, whose blood is it? (12/1)
Suit over Havasupai blood research dismissed (05/04)
Havasupai Tribe presses suit over misuse of blood (11/21)
Havasupai Tribe sees support for research lawsuit (11/01)
Lawsuit over Havasupai blood moved to state court (5/5)
Scientist not sorry for using tribal members' blood (03/24)
ASU refutes claims of misuse of tribal members' blood (03/18)
Havasupai Tribe files $50M suit over misuse of blood (3/16)
Havasupai tribal members sue over use of blood (3/1)