Our Day in Court

On April 15th, heady with hope and optimism at the impact our historic case could have on women’s health, the mood changed suddenly when we learned the terrible news from Boston as we were leaving the Supreme Court and wrapping up our rally against the patenting of the BRCA “breast cancer genes.” I write this recap of events at the Supreme Court with the deep sadness shared by so many. Our day in court marked a pivotal moment in this case that many of you have been anticipating for years.

Let me give you a sense of the atmosphere. Lines to get in were long, I was the first of only 50 or so members of the public to get a seat inside the courtroom. The Courtroom itself was packed. Nobel prize winning scientists Eric Lander and James D. Watson, heads of NIH (Harold Varmus) and NCI (Francis Collins), prominent geneticists, and other researchers, scientists, and policy makers whose work will be deeply impacted by this case were all in the audience.

In a test of Myriad’s logic and how far they are willing to go in allowing for corporate control over our very bodies, Justice Kagen pushed Myriad lawyers to take their argument to the extreme extent asking whether human chromosomes are patentable. Myriad replied yes. This is absurd and their reply came close to prompting several gasps in the courtroom. Kagen may not have been aware that the very scientist who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, James D. Watson was himself in the courtroom and he later spoke out against the practice of human gene patents.

I felt so proud to stand with our allies and friends and I was truly awed and humbled by the crowd of breast cancer activists supporting the issue outside. What an incredible experience! Well over 50 people from 14 states across the country joined together to stand against human gene patenting. Women proudly held up signs and pictures of loved ones: women with their children, their families, and friends.

I was representing Breast Cancer Action and we were joined by partner organizations and allies who stand with us in opposition to Myriad’s BRCA gene patents and all human gene patents. Leaders from Friends of the Earth USA, Knowledge Ecology International, FORCE, and METAVivor, joined us and spoke powerfully about the harms that result from Myriad’s gene patent.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with so many wonderful people working hard for women’s health was inspiring, and hearing the personal stories from the powerful women was an ongoing reminder that so much is at stake here.  We know that Myriad’s patent on our genes is wrong, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court Justices will take this opportunity to come down on the right side of women’s health.

Years ago, Breast Cancer Action was the only breast cancer organization willing to take a stand to oppose the human “breast cancer gene” patents. We remain the only breast cancer organization that is a plaintiff on the case.

I, and many others, look forward to the Court’s ruling. Ongoing support of health activists got us to the US Supreme Court, but we have more work to do.  It is amazing to know that I am not alone in taking a bold stand for women’s health and that we will continue to be instrumental in creating change in health care.


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