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Hollywood Braveheart?

Hollywood Braveheart?
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The latest issue of Time magazine has featured the celebrated and Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on its cover page, an honour the...

The latest issue of Time magazine has featured the celebrated and Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on its cover page, an honour the international news magazine reserves for only a few. In Angelina's case, her appearance on the front and centre of Time is not due to her silver screen successes or charity work she undertakes for UN agencies and privately-funded organizations, but for her decision to undergo double mastectomy which she made public in a personal piece she wrote in The New York Times.

It appeared on May 4 and ever since the glamorous actress' revelation has taken the world by storm. Her personal account of how she had lost her mother Marcheline Bertrand to cancer after a six-year battle in 2007 at the age of 56 is touching. Her death from a faulty gene known as BRCA 1 has left a lasting impression on the actress. The genetic factor is the prime motive for Angelina's decision to go in for the removal of both breasts, as she has an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and 50 per cent of ovarian cancer.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex." She wrote in NYT. The 37-year-old actress is now expected to have ovaries removed (oophorectomy) to ensure she does not face the risk of ovarian cancer.

Angelina's grueling medical procedure began on February 2 at the Pink Lotus Breast Center clinic in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, followed by an eight-hour surgery on February 16. Few knew or suspected as she continued her globe-trotting on charity missions. For instance, she visited the Congo with British Foreign Secretary William Hague as part of a UN initiative on March 26, Women In The World summit in New York on April 4, and the G8 meeting in London on April 11. Nine days later, she had breast reconstructive surgery with implants.

She wrote in NYT piece, "My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 per cent to under 5 per cent. I can tell my children they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer. It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that's it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman �that in no way diminishes my femininity."

The NYT Op-Ed piece has moved the soul and heart of many around the world. She has been hailed as an inspiration for women suffering from breast and ovarian cancers. The affection and love she poured out for her six children is truly angelic and her message to women not to live "under the shadow of cancer" and seek medical help "since you have options" is as Time headlined, 'Angelina Effect' on millions of women in the US and Europe. The effect is as dramatic as her movies, and equally powerful. She has succeeded in bringing breast cancer awareness to the educated classes in a (cinematic) way that no other person has done so far, at least in the US.

Not everybody agrees with her 'good' intentions to make her story public so that others facing similar situations can benefit. A section of the media thinks that she is part of a well-orchestrated corporate plan to protect gene patents and influence public opinion, including a Supreme Court decision. A According to Natural News investigation, Angelina's well-polished and subtle-messaged piece in NYT is aimed at promoting BRCA 1 gene testing which was done on her. The tests have been patented by Myriad Genetics and each one can cost up to $4,000. If each American woman, out of fear struck by Angelina's personal experience and pathos, goes in for BRCA 1 test, Myriad Genetics' profits will soar and, according to Marketwatch.com, the company's stocks had already skyrocketed following the publication of Angelina's article.

More important is its impact on cancer victims, general public and the American judiciary as a case is pending before the US Supreme Court over corporate ownership of human genes. The key issue in the case is whether private research labs and genetic drug manufacturers have the right to own human genes and whether they can patent them. The lawsuit goes back to May 12, 2009, when the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation filed a petition alleging that patents on two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer BRCA 1 and BRCA2, respectively, are ultra vires of the American Constitution. On November 30, 2012, the US apex court had agreed to hear arguments on the patentability of human genes. On April 15 this year, the ACLU argued the case before the American Supreme Court which is expected to deliver its decision in the next two months.

As the ACLU explains, "A gene patent holder has the right to prevent anyone from studying, testing or even looking at a gene. As a result, scientific research and genetic testing has been delayed, limited or even shut down due to concerns about gene patents."A When corporations own patents on human genes -- corporations and universities are said to have already patented about 20 percent of human genes -- it stifles scientific research while granting that corporation a monopoly over the "intellectual property" encoded in DNA.

The Supreme Court decision is keenly awaited in the US since its ruling will have a major impact on the genetic industry there. If the verdict goes against Myriad, it would deal a death blow to the entire human gene patenting industry, affecting trillions of dollars in future profits. It is suspected that Angelina's well-written script is aimed at the emotive side of women to get maximum mileage and help Myriad win the case. When the issue is broadened, according to Marketwatch.com, acquisitions and mergers involving billions of dollars are also on the cards.

Even if the benefit of the doubt is given to the investigative report, experts say operation will cut the cancer risk but there is no guarantee that it will completely eliminate the deadly disease. Professor Ian Smith, head of the breast unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, says: "This greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer, but does not abolish it since it is technically very difficult to remove all breast tissue."

A A corollary is: When Angelina says "you have options" � including gene testing � is she soft-selling a procedure monopolized by a corporate which is trying to patent it?

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