Professor Georgia Wheatley
WMST 2040 N1
10 March 2015
Do the Ends Ever Justify the Means?
When I first heard about the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", I thought it was just a reading assignment when I was in high school that I had to complete for a grade. As I began reading I became particularly interested in Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells. In "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", Rebecca Skloot talks about Henrietta Lacks and how her cells were taken without her permission, and how her family suffered afterwards. Skloot shows how medicine and science were seen back in the 1950's compared to now.
Henrietta Lacks was a “mother of five who died of cervical cancer at only thirty-one years of age” (Gabbay). When she passed away the doctors at John Hopkins asked her husband, David Lacks, if they could do a biopsy on her. At first he said no, but he finally told them they could go ahead. The doctors never told him or his family that they were going to take her cells and keep them. Nor did they tell the family that Henrietta's cells were growing at an incredible rate and were being shipped and bought across the world. “The existence of a constantly reproducing, or immortal, line of cells would permit an abundance of research that had never before been possible” this is what caused the cells to be coveted by doctors and scientist all over the world (Gabbay).
“I have always thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors? Don’t make no sense” (Gabbay). This statement was made by Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. Many companies made a lot of money from Henrietta's cells, known as HeLa cells, while her own children couldn't afford their medical bills. Henrietta's family didn't know about the HeLa cells until scientists investigating the cells began using her husband and children in research without their informed consent as well. Even though the “HeLa cells became a multi-million dollar industry” after Henrietta's death, her family never received any compensation or profits (Gabbay). Back then it wasn't required by doctors to ask patients for their consent. So when Henrietta died, it was not required to tell her family that the researchers would be using and maybe even selling the cells. If it had been required to ask patients and pay them for the product of their cells, the Lacks family would have known much sooner and could have had the proper medical care they should have had. If a patient doesn't want to give consent, then the doctor doesn't have the right to take tissue samples from him or her and use it or make a profit from it. Henrietta didn't know about her cells being taken when she was alive and neither did her family. It was unfair to Henrietta and her family.
Skloot describes how the Lacks family was attacked by reporters questioning them about the HeLa cells and not about Henrietta Lacks. I was irritated with the media reporters because they were making Henrietta's family's life hell when they were asking about her cells, reminding them that their mother was dead also due to her family being poor was unable to fully comprehend the science behind what was being done. Back then there was a term called "benevolent deception", which described how doctors withheld information from their patients, thinking that it might upset the patient. It's wrong to withhold information from a patient when it's about his or her health.
When Rebecca met the members of the Lacks family, she found out that they had little knowledge of what was going on with HeLa cells. It wasn't surprising that the Lacks family didn't know what was happening with the cells. The family feared what they believed were "night doctors who abducted black people for medical research"(Skloot). Because there was still discrimination then, they feared the worst. In my opinion the Lacks family was angry with the scientists using HeLa cells from Henrietta without the