Analysis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Background of Story

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a true story of a poor, Southern African-American tobacco farmer who died in 1951 at the very young age of 31 years old from cervical cancer. Little did she know that cells harvested from her tumor, which were obtained without her consent have lived on and on and became one of the most important tools in medicine today. Despite Henrietta’s story being full of legal and ethical issues, the story was one filled with success and anguish. Success for science as her cells served as advancement in medical research and development; yet was sorrowful for Henrietta and her family. This story occurred during a time of segregation in the United States, when Henrietta Lacks believed she was receiving the best possible treatment for her illness. Unfortunately, at this point in time doctors believed radium treated cancer, which we know today can actually increase the risk for cancer and cell research was just beginning in medicine. The journey of Henrietta started with her medical treatment occurring on a “colored” ward at John Hopkins Hospital in the 1950’s and ending in a white laboratory where freezers sit full of HeLa cells; now today, her children and grandchildren live in East Baltimore and still struggle with the legacy of her cells.
Henrietta’s tumor cells were taken from her body and given to a scientist named George Gey. Her cells were the first to live and grow outside of the body for an extended period of time, and they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. The name adopted was HeLa cell, yet Henrietta Lacks remains essentially unknown and is buried at an unmarked grave site next to her mother. These cells were vital in develop...

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... good of science and humanity and to that we owe her respect.

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The Scientist. Retrieved November 5, 2013 from
United States. Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved November 5, 2013 from
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