The Case Of Henrietta Lacks

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Imagine being the seed that germinates a billion dollar industry, and leads to a plethora of medical innovations and advancements, without granting informed consent or being compensated for your part in a movement that transmogrified the landscape of the medical world. Though one could ponder the ethical quandary delineated in such a hypothetical situation, this very event has already transpired. Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished African-American woman who suffered from cervical cancer, died in 1951 and was the unknowing seed, or in this case cell, that germinated the very tangible billion dollar medical industry created by her cell line. Dubbed “HeLa cells,” Lacks’s unwitting contribution has been utilized in over 74,000 medical studies, leading…show more content…
Though some reports claim that Lacks had signed an “intentionally vague” consent waiver, it is evident that the severity of what she was agreeing to was not conveyed. Due to this issue, consent has become a major point of controversy in the medical field. Previously, our world was one of medical paternalism, where doctors and medical treatment were viewed as authoritative figures, and the patients their obsequious subordinates. Therefore, patients like Lacks likely didn’t think twice about the ethical standards of their physicians, or their trustworthiness. Today, however, patients have taken charge and often dictate their care to a much larger degree. Ethical standards have become major points of concern in the medical board, including the vast development of The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, with one major development being informed consent. Maintaining the standards of informed consent ensures that potential cell donors understand both the altruistic benefits and the potential disadvantages to their decision. Had these standards been employed previously, stories of people like Lacks wouldn’t exist in the first place. Nevertheless, consent is merely one of the many issues that have been associated with tissue…show more content…
Numerous medical companies have been able to accredit cells, most notably the HeLa cells, for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Conversely, the cell donors themselves rarely receive any of prodigious proceeds. However, as some have noted, the donations wouldn’t generate such revenue without the diligent work of the medical companies themselves. Yet, with such a high margin of profit, one could argue that it’s only fair that the donors themselves, as well as their descendants, should get a percentage of the proceeds. Harkening back to the story of Henrietta Lacks, one is quick to note that her descendants received none of the revenue generated from Lacks’s immortal cell line. In fact, her descendants could not even afford to buy into the very healthcare system that she revolutionized. Ultimately, it’s important to note that the medical companies themselves are primarily responsible for the results yielded from cell donations due to their rigorous work, though it’s quite evident that the donors themselves should receive a portion of the profits. Even still, other disadvantages to tissue collection linger throughout the practice of
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