Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that naturally occurring genes cannot be patented. The decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, found that Myriad Genetics–a company known for isolating two human genes that make it easier to determine which women have a higher risk of ovarian and breast cancer–could not patent the genes.
The issue entered the cultural landscape after actress Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. “My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” wrote Jolie. The autobiographical piece also served as a rallying cry to raise awareness about the exorbitant cost of the test. Jolie noted that right now “at more than $3,000 in the United States, [testing] remains an obstacle for many women.”
The Supreme Court ruling could mean that more women, with less money, will have the chance to prevent breast and ovarian cancer. Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, joined All In with Chris on Thursday to discuss the decision’s potential effects. A breast cancer survivor herself, Wasserman Schultz stressed a woman’s right to a second opinion:
“I went through a year of seven surgeries based on the results of one test that when I asked how reliable it was was assured it was 100%. When I asked if I could get a second opinion before I had a double mastectomy and my ovaries removed and reconstructive surgery, I was told that I couldn’t have a second opinion because there was a company that had a patent on the gene and the test and they were the only ones that could do it…Already today if I was diagnosed with breast cancer and asked for that second opinion, the answer would be yes.”
Wasserman-Schultz expressed relief and excitement that women can now get that second opinion she was once denied.