The power of a celebrity sharing personal anecdotes, particularly when it comes to something as life-threatening as breast-cancer and as moving and transformative an experience as a preventive double mastectomy (the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breasts) to reduce risk of breast cancer was brought home when Angelina Jolie wrote her celebrated "brave and heroic" op-ed in the New York Times. what she described as a "desire to encourage other women to get gene-tested and to raise awareness of the options available to those at risk"
Leaving aside predictable adoloscent male responses on the lines of memorial pages on something aptly named as the Superficial, there was genuine admiration and a world-wide media-buzz. As the Guardian put it:
“Health campaigners praised her decision to go public with the news, which she said was prompted by a desire to encourage other women to get gene-tested and to raise awareness of the options available to those at risk.”
But from day one, there had also been criticismr, as Ruth Fowler wrote in Angelina Jolie: Privilege, Tits and Being Dumb:
The Guardian, ever optimistic in its adoration of dumb Liberals, quotes a female cancer patient from the UK, Wendy Watson, who founded the UK’s National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline. Wendy, of course, safe in her NHS bubble, welcomes Jolie’s decision to write publicly about her operation.
“It is excellent, because it is the highest profile you can get for it,” she said. “It raises the profile for other women to look to if they have a family history and would benefit from being screened more frequently, or having surgery or having a genetic test,” she said. “She probably feels that undergoing the operation is common sense but it probably does take a certain amount of courage to face it.”
Hey Wendy, listen up! The US doesn’t HAVE A NHS! Women sure would benefit from being screened over here, but that ain’t news! You know what would be news? A Hollywood star with Angelina’s profile and power actually highlighting how fucking disgraceful the United States healthcare system is, rather than waxing lyrical about her own fucking bravery and encouraging women to plop down 3k they will never, ever be able to afford on a test to see how likely it is that they’re going to die from a disease that they won’t be able to get adequate treatment for.
The murmurs were getting more pronounced with each passing day, as on Wednesday, May 15, writing for the Jezebel.com, Meagan Hatcher-Mays wrote: Angelina's Cancer Gene Is Actually Patented by a Company
Jolie’s decision came after she underwent genetic testing that indicated she was a carrier of certain genes that put her at a greater risk for developing aggressive breast cancer. Detecting these genes—known as BRCA1 and BRCA2—can be a crucial first step in preventing breast and ovarian cancers for women who have a family history of those diseases. But you’re gonna need some serious Jolie-bucks to find out if you’ve got the faulty genes.
Things that exist inside of your body are usually, you know, yours. But the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes actually “belong” to a company called Myriad Genetics, which patented the genes in the late 1990s—truly the salad days of creepy science. Myriad didn’t patent the testing procedure or the method of extraction, but the genes themselves. These patents allow the company to control research on BRCA1 and BRCA2, set the price of the testing, and locations of their labs. Jolie herself points out that steps must be taken to ensure that all women have access to genetic testing, since at the moment it’s totally cost-prohibitive for those women who are not Angelina Jolie. Because that gilded billiards room in the party yacht isn’t going to pay for itself, Myriad charges anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 for the test.
But the piece concluded on an admiring note, pointing out:
Angelina Jolie made a courageous decision and absolutely deserves a standing ovation for her honesty and her inspiration. But every woman should have the chance to make that same choice without cost as a barrier. As long as Myriad Genetics holds patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, it may be financially impossible for all women to get the testing that they need.
And then came the piece in Naturenews: Natural News challenges Angelina Jolie to denounce corporate patents on human genes which as earlier reported in our Short Takes, pulled no punches, though toning down its own piece of a day before [see here]
Following recent revelations of how Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy P.R. stunt feeds into the profits of the trillion dollar industry which claims to own human genes, Natural News is now calling on Jolie to publicly denounce patents on human genes, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes she has now made famous.
Does Angelina Jolie really stand up for women and human rights? Or is she a corporate sellout who corrals women into the for-profit cancer industry that claims ownership over the genetic code of all women?
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, Editor of NaturalNews.com went on to state the following four "facts":
- The BRCA1 gene for breast cancer is patented by a corporation called Myriad Genetics. All patents are government-enforced monopolies over intellectual property, and they thus prevent anyone else from conducting research or testing on the BRCA1 gene without paying huge royalties to Myriad. This is why the BRCA detection tests cost $3,000 - $4,000 each.
- Angelina Jolie's announcement of a double mastectomy even though she had no breast cancer caused the stock price of Myriad to skyrocket to a 52-week high. Whether she intended it or not, her advocacy of double mastectomies is causing market values to sharply rise in the human genomics industry, where corporations own patents on human genes.
- Obamacare mandates that, over the next few years, taxpayers start paying for BRCA1 gene testing. This will be a direct transfer of money from taxpayers to the corporations that "own" the human genes being tested.
- An imminent Supreme Court decision could make or break the human gene testing industry. Trillions of dollars are at stake. If the Supreme Court rules against corporate patents on human genes, BRCA1 testing will become amazingly affordable (in the $100 range), thereby denying billions of dollars in profits to gene patent holders.
With all this in mind, we now ask Angelina Jolie: Will you now denounce corporate ownership over human genes?
Read more at Natural News: Natural News challenges Angelina Jolie to denounce corporate patents on human genes
Read the ACLU's note on whether human genes can be patented here: Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics
Even the venerable Nation pointing out: Cashing In On Breast Cancer Awareness
In the wake of Angelina Jolie’s well-intentioned exhortation for “every woman” to explore their risk of breast cancer, one company stands to make a staggering profit...
...The problem is that there is profit—a lot of profit—to be made from stoking all of this worry. The big winner on Tuesday was not women’s health; it was Myriad Genetics, the company that has held the exclusive patent on the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations since the 1990s. Because, in part, of Jolie’s well-intentioned but ambiguously worded exhortation for “every woman” to explore her risk, Myriad may well see a surge in business. And business is already booming: according to Karuna Jaggar, the Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, “Myriad Genetics’ claim on our very DNA creates a profitable corporate monopoly for them, generating approximately half a billion dollars a year in revenue. In the last fiscal quarter alone, Myriad made $126 million off genetic testing for breast cancer—a full 85 percent of their total revenue.” Although the BRCA test could be easily performed by hundreds of US laboratories for as little as $200, Myriad’s patent prevents these more affordable tests from being performed.
Finally, today, even the mainstream media in the US is picking up the story, see for example H. Gilbert Welch writes for the CNN: What Angelina Jolie forgot to mention
And, in the EPW, G. Arunima points out, in Refashioning the Breast:
Casting the mastectomy debate in terms of an older ‘rights discourse’ of the women’s movement is a masterstroke by the medical industry. I would suggest we hit back by asking feminist inspired questions to the scientific establishment about access, costs, and the necessity of specific forms of treatment. That may be the way forward towards not only accountability to ‘consumers’, but actually for equitable health-care for all.