Ethics Hero: Angelina Jolie


I am pretty certain that actress Angelina Jolie could have undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy and never revealed it, She could have had reconstructive surgery and continuing to appeal to the sexual fantasies of moviegoers, which has been a significant aspect of her movie career. She had no need to disclose the operation, which she underwent last month, and no obligation to. Nonetheless,Jolie revealed her choice to the world in an eloquent, powerful, and courageous op-ed in the New York Times this week, and undoubtedly saved lives by doing so. She also made a critical cultural statement about the worth of women and how they are devalued by being reduced to their body parts in popular culture, the media, and the minds of men.

I think it is one of the most courageous acts by an entertainment figure that we have ever witnessed.

Jolie writes in part…

“…I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. 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….Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much 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.

“On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work. But I am writing about it now 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.

“…My own process began on Feb. 2 …Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place…Nine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful….

“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer….On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

“I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition….

“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.

“…I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.

“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”

Brava, and wow.

Jolie knows that this revelation will have some career implications, and obviously, properly, bravely, doesn’t care. Her priorities were correctly aligned in having the surgery—life, family, career—and they are ethically aligned in making her choice public—lives, women, role model.  With a little searching you can find a lot of ugly, disgusting, dispiriting and frightening posts around the web about Jolie’s revelation, from men who express the belief—not as rare as we would hope that it is—that without her breasts, this beautiful actress  is “damaged goods.” I don’t  want such comments appearing here, but Jolie is taking a bold and effective measure to begin eradicating that sexist and inhuman attitude with her op-ed. She is so much more than her breasts, and so secure in her strength, sexuality and value as a human being, that she easily makes such a prehistoric attitude seem as juvenile and debasing as it is.

I am not enamored of all the choices Angelina Jolie has made in her life, but with this one, she has elevated herself into the top ranks of ethics heroes, as someone I would cite as worthy role model to a daughter, or a son. Her children are very lucky…indeed, we all are. Angelina Jolie saw a way she could save lives and  start making the world better, and she did it.

We can only hope that when we have the opportunity to do the same, we have as much courage and character as she does.


Sources: E! (and Graphic), New York Times

19 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Angelina Jolie

  1. Sorry Jack, but a woman who’s won the genetic lottery (as well as the plastic surgery lottery) and made a ton of money acting as a Barbie doll in puerile moves as a result of being the (fairly difficult) daughter of a Hollywood actor and a French model who then goes on in her later life to merge with another large Hollywood enterprise (her “partner” Brad Pitt) and make a habit of telling the little people how to live their lives isn’t hero material in my book. There are serious pros and cons to the surgery she’s had done. Are these tests and surgeries available to the little people or under the Affordability Act? I’m afraid I’ll just lump this under the “any publicity is good publicity” and “tooting your own horn” banners and leave it at that. But reasonable people can disagree.

    • Yes, but that’s not a reasonable position:

      1. Jolie’s past is irrelevant. This is an act that supersedes all of that, which is trivial by comparison.
      2. You make her sound like Pamela Anderson. She’s made a lot of junk—so did Betty Davis, so do they all; that’s the biz. She also has made “Girl, Interrupted,” “The Bone Collector,” “The Good Shepherd,” ” Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and several other excellent films, an several guilty pleasures.
      3.”There are serious pros and cons to the surgery she’s had done.” As there is to all surgery. What’s your point?
      4. “Are these tests and surgeries available to the little people or under the Affordability Act?” No, she covers that; again, what’s your point? That they shouldn’t be told about the tests if they can’t afford them now? That nobody should have the tests if everybody can’t? Your attitude is puzzling.
      5. How is this tooting her own horn? How is getting publicity for a sex symbol that she has forfeited important assets “good publicity”?

      This seems like animus blinding you to reality.

      • Perhaps. But what’s reality when you’re looking at the actions of a professional actor? You’re a theatrical director, so I’m guessing you see actors as practitioner of a noble art and place a halo around the really good ones. And you’re probably akin to my favorite college English professor who explained: “The reason you go to the theater is to see beautiful women on stage, in costume, looking beautiful.” Fair enough.

        And you’re right, it’s probably animus. But I think the Tim Robbins and George Clooneys and other Hollywood lefties (is that redundant?) who preach about what we should all do for our fellow human beings as they conduct their lives in pulic (for profit) while acting terribly to their spouses and children have earned my skepticism.

        Maybe my blindness has been caused by over-exposure to the film industry. Perhaps it’s only temporary. Who knows.

      • If you know you have the gene then you can be hyper vigilant in making lifestyle changes and having check ups if you can’t afford the surgery. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a person who can afford it.

        • Fair enough. Absolutely.

          I guess my point, now that I’ve thought about it, is largely tangential to breast cancer. It’s more: “When we’re dealing with a celebrity, are we dealing with a person?” I’m sure her PR firm wrote her op/ed piece. In the current celebrity crazed pop-culture and trash media world, can we believe anything about a celebrity as far as their being a person goes? I think not. It’s more likely everything about their so-called lives is carefully crafted spin. For example, they and their assistants and enablers and handlers and production companies want us to pay attention to them non-stop. Unless they want us to respect their privacy. They go on a vacation. Did they want to go there or were they paid by the resort or the island’s PR company? They hate papparazzi, until they’re orchestrating a comeback and they need the exposure. They live in another universe. Which I think should encourage them to simply keep their mouths shut on foreign policy, domestic policy, matters of public health and so forth; almost anything that happens in the universe the rest of us inhabit.

          • I think she wrote this herself, just as I think Ashley Judd wrote her recent screed.

            Yes, celebrities at that level are all artifice, or mostly, or an indeterminable proportion. But as icons, images, and symbols, they have real impact, and should be judged on what that impact is. Your cynicism is certainly justified, but there are some genuinely admirable human beings mixed in with the plastic ones, the posers and the phonies.

            • And it’s awfully hard, if not impossible, to tell the admirable ones from the three ‘Ps.’

              Ironically, I think her father may in fact be a real human being. I heard a radio interview with her dad during which he recounted his interviewing for, and then being given, his role in “Midnight Cowboy.” I’m pretty sure the first person he called was his mother. Jon just sounded like a professional, working actor who’d never forgotten he’d been, not so long ago, an unknown, unemployed actor.

              Thanks again. Always enjoyable corresponding with someone who enjoys discussing things, has firmly held, totally defensable beliefs and opinions and doesn’t think everyone has to think the same or agree on everything.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this,Jack. My friends and I were just discussing Angelina on Facebook and I copied and pasted her statement. She has acted very responsibly to her public and I applaud her.

  3. In the same situation I would make same choice.

    As for the men making rude comments, well, I don’t want to dirty up your blog with my comments on them.

  4. I have to admit I deliberately avoided all comment sections on news sites when Jolie’s story hit.
    Rationally I know that there are many kind and good guys out there (my father and brother being prime examples) but it always seems as if only the dark side of manhood find’s its way into the user comment section of any news oder video web sites. And the comments of the latter can really shake up that rational thinking…
    That said – Jolie has always been very radical in anything she did. I applaud that woman for following through!

    As for the career implications – I’m not so sure. She can afford the very best of plastic surgeons and this was a planned procedure not an emergency removal. If she kept her areolae – which brings with it the risk of developing cancer in that tissue – the only difference one will notice is that she now carries implants in her breasts…

  5. Her image as the most highly prized female in the universe could have been tainted now that she’s not absolutely perfect. She could have remained silent but she didn’t. Even if the press found out, she beat them to it. And if nothing else, this is admirable. Give credit where it’s due all you hardened cynics. She can’t help it that she’s gorgeous – “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”… but she could have remained perfect and didn’t.

  6. Natural News says this about Angelina’s surgery.

    “Angelina Jolie’s announcement of undergoing a double mastectomy (surgically removing both breasts) even though she had no breast cancer is not the innocent, spontaneous, “heroic choice” that has been portrayed in the mainstream media. Natural News has learned it all coincides with a well-timed for-profit corporate P.R. campaign that has been planned for months and just happens to coincide with the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on the viability of the BRCA1 patent.”

    Read the whole “expose” at

    Is this a valid conspiracy, or simply tin foil hattery. Me? I have no idea. What think the rest of you. Am I wasting your time?

    • All info is good info, but coordinating other measures around removing one’s breasts is not the same as removing your breasts as a PR move. She’s a smart woman, and can chew gum and walk at the same time…i wouldn’t doubt that she would decide to use her decision and act in any way possible to further causes she cares about. So what? It doesn’t change the fact that it’s still gutsy and admirable.

    • Natural News is a tinfoil hat-level conspiracy site.

      To quote its RationalWiki page ( ; it serves as a convenient summary and is referenced):

      “Adams is a flat-out opponent[6] of modern medicine and opposes any medication[7] or doctor visits.[8][9] Adams calls himself a “holistic nutritionist”[10] and is a raw food proponent[11] who opposes food that contains sugar,[12] food that was cooked[13] or made to last,[14] “red” meat,[15] sweeteners,[16] glutamate,[17] homogenized milk,[18] bread,[19] “white” flour,[20] washing powder,[21] deodorants,[22] shampoo[23] and fluoride.[24]

      “A recurring theme is the contrast between the site’s exacting criticism of evidence-based medicine and its unquestioning acceptance of the appeal to nature, New Age and alternative medicine.[25] This often involves rejection of the scientific method’s application to medicine as “inherently flawed”,[26] repudiating the entire philosophy of modern medicine post-Pasteur.[27] Adams is a firm germ theory denialist.[28][29][30] Adams also conflates evidence-based medicine in general, the failings of Big Pharma and the US health insurance system: to him, it’s all a monolithic entity called “mainstream medicine”.[31] The site blames the pharmaceutical industry for all vaguely drug-linked celebrity deaths rather than looking at any surrounding factors.[32][33][34][35]

      “The response to any alternative medicine claim, however, is blind acceptance, whether the topic at hand is homeopathy,[36] chiropractic,[37] dental woo,[38] aspartame scares,[39] vitamin woo,[40] anti-vaccination panic[41][42] or detox diets.[43]”


      “Adams’ love for woo isn’t restricted to medicine. Cold fusion and so-called free energy ideas and devices like the Energy Catalyzer are presented on his website with the same enthusiasm as the latest alternative medicine fad.[59][60] He collects news about chemtrails.[61] He is a 9/11 truther[62], birther,[63] and pretty much everything else-er. And a Sandy Hook denialist.[64] He considers Alex Jones, Jeff Rense, and David Icke to be “REAL heroes.”[65] He considers David Icke[66] and[67] reliable sources.”

      Also: “Adams has also issued his informed opinion of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado “Batman” shootings, declaring that they were “obviously” staged, or perhaps that the killer, James Holmes, was involved in “experimental” neuroscience that got out of hand.[73] Furthermore, also the 2013 attacks on the Boston marathon is reported to be a false flag operation by “private military contractors”.[74]”

      This is an extraordinarily concise summary of some of what’s there on that site. I still remember when he tried to claim that the American vaccination program was going to lead to a zombie apocalypse.

      • I agree that some of what Mike Adams writes is flat out tin foil fodder. But, I try to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this follow-up article posted today, he makes some, to me, valid points about coporate patents.

        Excerpt – • The BRCA1 gene for breast cancer is patented by a corporation called Myriad Genetics. All patents are government-enforced monopolies over intellectual property, and they thus prevent anyone else from conducting research or testing on the BRCA1 gene without paying huge royalties to Myriad. This is why the BRCA detection tests cost $3,000 – $4,000 each.

        • Angelina Jolie’s announcement of a double mastectomy even though she had no breast cancer caused the stock price of Myriad to skyrocket to a 52-week high. Whether she intended it or not, her advocacy of double mastectomies is causing market values to sharply rise in the human genomics industry, where corporations own patents on human genes.

        • Obamacare mandates that, over the next few years, taxpayers start paying for BRCA1 gene testing. This will be a direct transfer of money from taxpayers to the corporations that “own” the human genes being tested.

        • An imminent Supreme Court decision could make or break the human gene testing industry. Trillions of dollars are at stake. If the Supreme Court rules against corporate patents on human genes, BRCA1 testing will become amazingly affordable (in the $100 range), thereby denying billions of dollars in profits to gene patent holders.

        Is Adams on to something?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.