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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Essay Example

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Lacks died of cancer but her cells live on. Henrietta Lacks’s story holds great importance because of the fact that there are several ethical issues that raises concern. The ethical issues raised in those times, exist even today in some places; however there are certain legal procedures and laws that lay down guideline for the ethics to be followed by researchers. The first ethical issue that comes to my mind is that of “confidentiality”. The ethical issue of confidentiality in research means that the identity, privacy and all information about the patient must be treated as highly confidential in nature. The identity of people being used for a particular research or study should never be revealed. It is the researcher’s responsibility to protect the identity. However, in Lack’s case, confidentiality was not maintained. The researchers did not reveal only her name but also revealed her race to the world. In those times, there were no binding laws that called for confidentiality on part of the researchers. Today, it is mandatory for researchers using human tissues to respect the privacy of the subjects and safeguard their identity. One of the most popular to keep things confidential is the use of pseudonymisation or use a code in place of real identification of the human subjects (Kalra et al, 2006) The next ethical issue worth that I would like to discuss is that of “informed consent”. Human tissues and cells are of great importance to the research world however these tissues and cells need to be procured from people with appropriate consent. People have the right to know how their cells are being used for research. In Henrietta’s case, she was not informed about her doctor’s decision of tumorous cell extraction. She was not even asked for consent. In the 1950’s, issues about informed consent was still in infancy stages, so Dr.Gey was not compelled in any way to ask Henrietta Lacks’s consent for using her tumorous cells for his own research purposes. Today, however, the concept of informed consent exists. People today have the right the right to decide who, when, why and how his/her body cells may be used. Today, researchers are compelled legally and ethically to seek permission before using human tissues. However, in many parts of the world extraction of cells without prior consent still exist .to some extent. The last ethical issue that interested me was a question- who benefits from commercialization of human tissue? (Devine 2010). In the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks we learn that Henrietta belonged to a very poor family and hence was being treated at the charity ward of St John Hopkins hospital. Even after her death her family too lived in abject poverty. On the other hand, Henrietta’s cells which started as just a research tool for Dr.Gey became a multi-million dollar industry in a few years. The cell line divided really fast which made its production cost efficient. He-La cells were easy to handle and therefore scientists from all around the world bought the cells for their respective researches. Big industries like those of cosmetic or pharmaceutical too tested their products on the cost-effective HeLa cells rather than on costly laboratory animals. However, Lack’s family was completely unaware about the existence of He-La cells and its commercialization and was given no share of the ...Show more


Date: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Henrietta Lacks, who was diagnosed with a very unique form cervical cancer, is the face behind the famous HeLa cells, which are the first immortal cells that is being used for research purposes throughout the world to this very day…
Author : jeffryfranecki
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks essay example
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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This is because for a writer who started of by writing about the agonizing life of a woman who had to battle cervical cancer, the author could however give readers and especially the family of the antagonist, who was Henrietta Lacks a very high level of hope that even though she died eventually, she continues to live because out of her cancer cell, a remedy cell called HeLa that was to be a life saving cell was to be found to help other people survive.
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However, the book discusses a number of ethical issues that are associated to HeLa cells and makes one wonder about the ethical issues that exist today. Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman and a mother five was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Dr.Gey noticed that Lack’s tumorous cells behaved astonishingly abnormally and divided really fast when compared to other tumor cells.
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