This is sooooo fucked. Capitalism, you suck!
On Tuesday, Angelina Jolie wrote an emotional op-ed for The New York Times about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. 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.
Last fiscal quarter, Myriad raked in $126 million dollars from genetic testing for breast cancer (85% of their total revenue!). Jolie’s piece on her genetic testing and subsequent surgery was a windfall for the company—Myriad can finally swap out the 4-ply for one hundred dollar bills in the executive bathrooms. (And it’s not just Myriad. About 20% of our genes have already been patented, potentially creating financial impediments for those whose diseases might be prevented through genetic testing.) It’s just like your conservative Uncle Larry always says, “Let private enterprise provide life-saving medical services, because I fucking hate poor people and women!” CAPITALISM GUITAR RIFF!
There’s a supreme court case pending to decide whether human genes can be patented. The logic is so convoluted you’d need a kaleidoscope to see it clearly.
All told, this, once again, comes down to the Profit Motive, that money is the only - the ONLY - thing that motivates people to do anything.
This whole thing sickens me.
This is so disgusting and repulsive and out of control.