Dissent

VISIONS of godzilla-sized mutant mice rampaging through America's cities may sound ridiculous, but it is irrational fears such as this that the staff falls prey to. The staff would halt scientists from using genetically-engineered animals until a morality discussion between Congress and the general public could take place. They forget that this would delay research into our deadliest disease, cancer, and the discovery of a cure that could save many lives.

Not only will congressional interference entangle important research in the bureaucracy, it smacks of a demagogic desire to enforce public morality over private enterprise in the absence of any clear and present danger.

Revoking the patent for the mouse would cause severe harm to medical science. An important financial incentive that drives biotechnology research in academia and industry would be removed. The money that goes to the doctor and to Harvard is not expected to amount to all that much--but it does repay the researcher for his time and effort and the University for its facilities. And this is money that would be plowed back into research work and laboratory facilities in the cause of medical science.

ANYWAY, the question is moot. There is no need for another public debate on biotechnology. Several years ago, after intense debate in Congress, the universities, and the media, the federal government decided to allow the patenting of small microorganisms. The nation's policy has already approved of granting ownership to man-made forms of life. Must the Congress demand a damaging pause in scientific research every time a different organism is patented, whether it be a virus, mouse, or worm?

And what's the difference between patenting a small bacteria that eats oil slicks and patenting a small white mouse that develops cancer? Both are tools created by man for the use of man. Mankind has been hybridizing plants and cattle for centuries for profit. It would be a foolish, backward step to prevent us from using biological aids to better the environment and the human condition.