Talking About Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy

"Life comes with many challenges.

The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of."

-Angelina Jolie (from her New York Times Op-Ed)


It was a coincidence that Marjorie's story went live the same day Angelina Jolie revealed she had a preventative double mastectomy, but I'm glad the two coincided and I'm very glad this topic is now garnering national attention. It raises important questions about woman's health-- questions that you and me, in our strive to live long, healthy lives may encounter. One of those questions, which is, in fact being debated by the Supreme Court right now, is whether a company can patent a gene sequence. Stay with me.

Today's talking point isn't about whether a double mastectomy is a good idea. If you read Marjorie's story (which I hope you did!) then you know she had a double mastectomy because she had cancer; whereas Angelina discovered a high risk of cancer. Personally, I don't think there's much to say about whether a double mastectomy is good or bad-- it's effective. Period.

The deeper issue here is the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the case of Assn for Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics. At the moment, Myriad Genetics has a patent on the two 'faulty' cancer genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2, which Angelina says she paid $3,000 to detect. The Court is to decide whether this patent is legal.

From the LA Times:

Myriad argues that the isolated sequence is a patentable invention because it doesn't exist in that exact form within the body. Its opponents counter that Myriad merely discovered something that nature formed, and such things aren't patentable.

What do you think? Should a gene sequence be patentable?

Also from the LA Times:

Myriad's patents give it an unusual degree of control over researching and testing for BRCA defects. Only Myriad can legally isolate the BRCA1 and 2 sequences. In the United States, that means only Myriad's lab can conduct a full sequencing test to check a patient for the innumerable possible mutations of those genes.

Why this matters: Some, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believe that if Myriad owns the gene sequence, they also own testing rights and have the final say on what (if any) further research may be conducted on these known-to-be cancerous genes. And essentially, if other companies want to offer testing of these genes, say, at a lower rate, they can't do it without Myriad's consent.

The bottomline: a patent gives Myriad sole ownership of the gene sequence.

Angelina's letter didn't mention any of this, but the purpose of her letter, which she wrote, "I hope it helps you to know you have options" does skim the surface of this issue.

Do we have options?

Even if this gene sequence is owned by a big corporation? 

It's important to note that Angelina did acknowledge, " The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women."

Do you have an opinion about the upcoming case?

Do you think if Myriad gets to keep their patent they will make the test accessible to everyone?

Note: I realize these are serious topics, but they're just the sort of thing I want discussed on Fit for a Bride. I think all of us agree that health is about so much more than weight loss.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Image credit: ACLU