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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Do You Own your Feet?

You may not own your name, but it's hard to argue that you don't own your hair, or your hands, or your feet. For centuries, women in need of money have sold their hair to wig makers. And if somebody cuts off your hand or your foot, you can sue them for bodily mutilation.

Ownership of the genetic pattern that is stored inside each and every cell of your body may also seem to be an open-and-shut case. After all, your DNA pattern is uniquely yours. It determines your eye and hair color, the shape of your face, your sex, your race, and countless other characteristics that have come together in a unique pattern—you. How could you not own your own genetic pattern?

Genetic patterns are certainly a thing worth owning—at least, some of them are. Locked away in the genetic patterns of some individuals are specific mutations from which biotechnology researchers can develop new medical tests and drugs. This is especially true of people with rare mutations—such as those people who can apparently smoke without getting cancer, or become infected with HIV without developing AIDS.

Other individuals have genetic patterns that they would rather not have—and that they would like to keep a secret from others. For example, some people have genes that make their bodies more susceptible to cancer or particular kinds of diseases. In recent years, people who have tested positive for various kinds of genetic disorders have been discriminated against by employers and insurance companies. ...

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