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Euthanasia for Excellence

On April 10 of last year, the European Patent Office quietly awarded a patent to Michigan State University (MSU) for "euthanasia solutions which use the anesthetic gammahydroxy-butramide (embutramide) as a basis for formulating the composition." On the surface, the event was not out of the ordinary. In the abstract of the public document, the new compound appeared to be for application among the "lower mammals," meaning for veterinary needs. In this regard, the new drug was an improvement. Unlike the existing product, known as T-61, the MSU compound did not contain a barbiturate, making it easier to store and transport. It also avoided common side effects, such as "a stiffening of the forelimbs" and an overstimulation of the brain.

So the matter might have lain, had not a German patent attorney affiliated with the conservative group Mut Zur Ethik ("Courage to Take a Moral Stance") come across the provisional award of patent during a routine review of public documents. He secured background materials, including a March 1, 1994, response from the Examining Division of the European Patent Office. In raising challenges to MSU's initial application, it included this passage: "The Examining Division notices that the subject matter of the claims is not limited to the provision of euthanasia in lower mammals. The attention of the Applicant is drawn to the fact that humans are a mammalian...

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