Henrietta Lacks Essay

Submitted By ratsesor
Words: 2665
Pages: 11

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks died, she unwittingly left behind a piece of herself that is still existing today: her “HeLa cells”. Doctors took Henrietta's cells without her consent and used them in scientific research and found them to be “immortal cells”. The cells were then used in the years following to help cure polio and are now used today to find ways to create body parts. Was it justifiable to take her cells without Lacks consent? Because her cells were taken without her consent, good things came out of it. New cures, new discoveries, and most importantly new research to help find new cures today. If doctors had not of taken her cells, where would research be today? What impact did Lacks cells have on scientific history? Lacks was born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia and Lacks later moved to Clover, Virginia to live with her uncle. In the nineteen twenties Clover, Virginia was farmland and factories while the majority was slaves and slaveowners including Lacks family and herself. Lacks spent her young days in the fields accompanied by her cousins, sisters, and brothers. They “awoke each morning at four o’clock to milk the cows and feed the chickens, hogs, and horses.” (15). Not only did the young children feed the animals, but they also harvested and maintained the fields of fruit, vegetables, and tobacco. Henrietta and her cousins worked for both the family and for white owners. They would “hire themselves out to those white folks”(22). This was not uncommon for black folks to sell themselves to a job or to be pushed around like they mean nothing.

Lacks “was a poor and largely illiterate Virginia tobacco farmer, the great-great-granddaughter of slaves.” (1). Lacks was uneducated and grew up harvesting crops, following the “norm” for African Americans during the nineteen hundreds.
On January 29, 1951, Lacks took herself to John Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital close by that would treat African Americans. Lacks entered the hospital through the ‘colored’ only doors, and was taken to the ‘negro’ section of the hospital where she had to drink from the ‘colored’ water fountain. The early nineteen hundreds was packed with racism and sexism, explaining why Lacks had to go to the colored side, because she was an African American. Lacks was looked at and checked by white male doctors who worked at John Hopkins. At first, doctors had no idea what was wrong with Henrietta until one day her doctor, Howard Jones, noticed the small lump inside Henrietta’s cervix that she had been talking about. Howard Jones took two samples from her cervix tissue; one from the tumor and one from the non tumorous side. Henrietta was then put through multiple radiation treatments for her cancerous tumor while having many surgeries to cut away at the tumor. Henrietta did not react well to many of the radiations, causing her to break out in black blotches all over her body. "The skin from Henrietta's breasts to her pelvis was charred a deep black from the radiation"(48). Henrietta continued to go back to John’s Hopkins for check ups and x-rays, but no one had ever asked Henrietta or told her that the doctors were collecting her cells and using them in advanced research to find out if they were immortal.

Henrietta Lacks was placed into the negro section at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Doctors took her cells without her consent and proceeded to do extensive research to her cells. One would wonder if the doctors at John Hopkins took Henrietta’s cells because she was an African American women, or if they “took any cells they could get their hands on” (book p. 30). John Hopkins Hospital consisted of all white male doctors, signifying that women who were white or of a different race could not work there or anywhere. Women could work and have jobs but their jobs were mostly house work or hard and intensive labour such as working in the fields.

When Henrietta walked into John Hopkins Hospital for the first time, she