Angelina Jolie has just announced via the New York Times that she underwent a surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes to address her increased risk of developing gynecological cancers. The decision has attracted widespread commentary, and it’s an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about women’s health and autonomy in the United States. Jolie-Pitt is an adult woman who can make her own informed choices, yet some seem convinced that she owes them her body—and her life.
The story follows on her 2013 decision to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, a procedure she also wrote about for the Times. Medical testing revealed that she had a BRCA1 mutation, a genetic twist of fate that made her more vulnerable to breast and ovarian cancers. Her mother, grandmother, and aunt had all died of such cancers, making her acutely aware of the risk and the tragedy of being the family left behind.
“I am writing about it now,” Jolie said in 2013 after completing the series of surgeries necessary to remove and reconstruct her breasts, “because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer and then take action.”
Her decision to be frank about the details of her medical history and proactive steps sparked what some called the “Angelina effect,” as the Internet, and the world at large, started talking about breast cancer. The specifics of who should be tested for BRCA mutations and how they should handle such mutations was a particular topic of interest, particularly for those with close relatives who had died from such cancers.
Jolie’s decision to be open about her cancer risks and how she managed them forced a discuss about an issue we're often afraid to address, despite the push for breast cancer awareness every October. She opened up the ugly and frank truths of being alive with a genetic timebomb ticking in your chest, forcing you to make difficult medical decisions under a tight deadline. For Jolie, who had been planning the oophorectomy at some point in the future, that deadline came up short when her doctor in
Yet in order to do so, we must, as the late Dr. Tiller said, “trust women.” The inability to trust women to make informed and private medical decisions on the basis of all the available information and consultation with their physicians is a persistent problem in the U.S. It extends not just to Angelina Jolie’s breasts and ovaries, but also to women’s pregnancies, the push for birth control, and the demand for bodily autonomy from American women. It’s particularly stark for celebrit