Angelina Jolie’s breasts, gene patents and the “body as your enemy”

Due to being wrapped up in hundreds of e-mails (as part of planning a round table on the human

body),  a little scribbling at my PhD, and some hipsterish social events intermezzos, it is only now that I have some time to write about an important news concerning the human body. Angelina Jolie got a double masectomy.

This can be interesting for many reasons, but the most interesting/worrying news related to it is that human genes might get/are patented. Therefore, the question “Who owns your body?” might soon receive a very definite and quantifiable answer (company X, the Y University, corporation Z). Currently there is a major lawsuit under way in which it should be decided whether the human genes can be patented. There are 2 different understandings of the body which come face to face in this trial. On the one hand, doctors and patients who claim that genes are “”products of nature”, like organs of the body and should not be exploited for commercial gain.” The opposing “team” views genes in terms of corporate ownership, claiming that such “patents on breast and ovarian cancer genes are necessary to fund further research“. In practice, it seems that about 20% of the human genome has already been patented, with the new owners being the “gatekeepers” of any research on it.

But what does it have to do with Angelina Jolie? It seems that very much indeed. The BRCA1 gene, which was apparently the cause behind her masectomy (due to fears of not developing cancer) is one of the genes involved in the patent trial. If the court decision will be favorable, than a very profitable industry will develop based on gene testing procedures (such as the one Angelina took).

As a side note, her action, as well as similar cancer “prevention” campaigns, create a new perspective on your body: one in which it can be a silent enemy, with dangers lurking in your depths (the DNA material)- it might kill you, so you’d better take action first (and remove whatever parts are threatening).

All in all, putting a price on the human body and life might soon get a whole new (literal) meaning.


One thought on “Angelina Jolie’s breasts, gene patents and the “body as your enemy”

  1. Pingback: Best of 2013 (exhibitions, news, blogs) | Bodies and academia

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