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Genomes for Sale

             There is a hot debate raging in Iceland! The government of Iceland has passed a law enacting the creation of a national health database. When the bill was first proposed, it only required medical and family genealogy records to be included into a database. Opposition to the bill escalated when the government conveniently decided to add genetic information, at the eleventh hour. Then in an unprecedented move, the parliament granted the exclusive contract for genetic research to deCODE Genetics; a biomedical company founded by Viking Kari Stefansson, giving deCODE an unabated access to the national health records.
             The governing body's rationale behind the move, for the inclusion of genetic data, was that it might make possible the identification of genetic traits and inherited diseases of Icelandic citizens. The government has touted the national economic benefits to be gained from the partnership with the private enterprise. However Oksana Hlodan points out, "De CODE pays the government an annual license fee, this only covers the costs of the database and administration fees. Which is only a fraction of the outlay to compile the data in the first place." What they also failed to mention was that ultimately, drugs could be designed utilizing this data, to attack such diseases. The holder of the patent to such a drug would stand to gain an immeasurable fortune. A fortune facilitated by Icelandic tax dollars. If deCODE stands to gain substantial profit, many critics feel the participants should reap some financial rewards also. Hence the fervor in Iceland.
             One may ask why and what puts the Icelandic genome on the proverbial hot plate? There are multiple reasons. Iceland's population is relatively small, about 275,000 people. Genealogy is an integral part of the culture, 80% of all Icelandic people who have ever lived in Iceland and abroad can be traced on family trees. Stefansson himself can trace his ancestry back to the year 1000 C.

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