Columbia University Medical Center

Jolie’s Breast Cancer Revelation Raises Question about Gene Patents

Columbia bioethicist Dr. Robert Klitzman comments on Angelina Jolie's prophylactic breast surgery

Bioethicist Dr. Robert Klitzman applauded Angelina Jolie for her courage in revealing her decision to have a  prophylactic double mastectomy following genetic testing for breast cancer. But he says the test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 that informed Jolie of her heightened cancer risk—which is often prohibitively expensive—raises important questions about gene patents.

The reason [the BRACAnalysis predictive test] is 3000 dollars is because the gene is patented by a company, Myriad Genetics. That patent has recently been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in the Supreme Court, and we don’t know the outcome of that. I think that the notion of patenting genes is very problematic morally, because these are genes that are in all of our bodies.

Watch Dr. Klitzman’s full commentary:

Dr. Klitzman and Columbia geneticist Dr. Wendy Chung recently interviewed 32 women with a high breast cancer risk about their decisions to undergo or decline prophylactic surgery. Their findings—which highlight the need for physicians to be more aware of the stresses and uncertainties these women face—were published in an article in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

Note: Dr. Robert Klitzman is associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Mailman School of Public Health. He is also the  director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University.

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