Karitiana – Our personal integrity has been violated
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Karitiana – Our personal integrity has been violated

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John Ahni Schertow
June 21, 2007
 

The Karitiana, a People indigenous to Brazil have recently discovered that blood and DNA collected from them in 1996–under the guise of a reasonable exchange of medicine which the never received–is being sold to scientists around the world for $85 a sample.

The Karitiana now want this stopped, and are demanding compensation for this violation and lack of integrity on part of the scientists.

From the New York Times – “We were duped, lied to and exploited,” Renato Karitiana, the leader of the tribal association, said in an interview here on the tribe’s reservation in the western Amazon, where 313 Karitiana eke out a living by farming, fishing and hunting. “Those contacts have been very injurious to us, and have spoiled our attitude toward medicine and science.”

Two other Brazilian tribal peoples complain of similar experiences and say they are also seeking to stop the distribution of their blood and DNA by Coriell Cell Repositories, a nonprofit group based in Camden, N. J. They are the Suruí people, whose homeland is just south of here, and the Yanomami, who live on the Brazil-Venezuela border.

Coriell stores human genetic material and makes it available for research. It says the samples were obtained legally through a researcher and approved by the National Institutes of Health.

“We are not trying to profit from or steal from Brazilians,” Joseph Mintzer, executive vice president of the center, said in a telephone interview. “We have an obligation to respect their civilization, culture and people, which is why we carefully control the distribution of these cell lines.”

Like a similar center in France that has also obtained blood and DNA samples of the Karitiana and other Amazon tribes, Coriell says it provides specimens only to scientists who agree not to commercialize the results of their research or to transfer the material to third parties.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon are ideal for certain types of genetic research because they are isolated and extremely close-knit populations, allowing geneticists to construct a more thorough pedigree and to track the transmission of illnesses down generations.

The practice of collecting blood samples from Amazon Indians, though, has aroused widespread suspicions among Brazilians, who have been zealous about what they call “bio-piracy” ever since rubber seedlings were exported from the Amazon nearly a century ago. The rise of genome mapping in recent years has only exacerbated such fears.(source)

Further Reading

A worldwide fight against biopiracy and patents on life
Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy
Campaign to Stop the genographic project (news)
Privatizing our `genetic commons’

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