In Rebecca Skloot’s novel The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the author investigates the origin of a line of “immortal cells” used for research on various diseases. The cells were immortal in the sense that they continued to multiply long after the person from whom they came passed away. This quality made them priceless in the field of medical research. The cells were called HeLa, after the person from whom the cells were initially harvested-Henrietta Lacks. As Rebecca learns more about Henrietta and her family, certain injustices in the field of public health are made apparent.
These cells were then made into the immortal cell line that has been used widely in research. The unfortunate part of the situation was while scientists were profiting from their work with the HeLa cells, Lacks’ family was living in poverty without proper health insurance or the knowledge of Henrietta’s contribution to science. The case of Henrietta Lacks draws attention to the bioethical issues of informed consent, beneficence, not using people as a means to an end, and spreading knowledge. The primary ethical debate that arose from the discussion of HeLa cells is the issue of informed consent. Lacks and her family were not told of the cells taken from her body until more than 20 years after Lacks had passed away.
This has been an ongoing controversy because the cells have been so beneficial for society, but they are derived from shady procedures. The reason way Henrietta’s cells, HeLa cells, didn’t undergo apoptosis was that they were cancerous cells that replicated indefinitely and these cells were modified to be even more resistant due to other diseases Ms. Lacks had. There are still many unknowns to the cause of an immortal cell line, but scientists do know it correlates with a mutation within the cell. In the case of Henrietta, the cells that were taken from her came from a tumor she had.
Our DNA holds more information about us than anything else does, just a single strand of hair is enough to know who you are, where you been and what you have been doing. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, talks about the injustice Henrietta went through where companies made millions of her HeLa cell line. Henrietta had no clue what doctors did to her yet she and her family never saw a penny from the profits made, never did she give permission. Leading to the taking of peoples DNA without consent has become a troubling problem in the US. The injustice faced by Henrietta Lacks and others have from DNA and companies making money, yet some benefits came out of this such as the HeLa line which is used for various reasons now.
As I looked up recent articles about the HeLa cells I find that her cells still exist today and are being used for genome sequencing (Nature.com). Doctors are using the same cells from over 50 years ago to better our medicine and medical advances. I wonder what Henrietta thinks of all this. It is an amazing thing in the long run because of what we discovered, but it is truly a terrible thing because it was done without consent and she had no choice. This also caused a lot of pain for her family and if only this could have been done on someone who consented and agreed, maybe it would not be such a negative event in history.
For the scientific community, endless cell life was huge, but it would mean nothing to her family until 1973 when they first learned that Henrietta’s cells were still alive. This new information and unfamiliarity of scientific jargon about Henrietta was not easily understood by the Lacks, and it took quite some time for someone to actually sit down with the family and explain to them that their mother was not alive and being tested on, but instead her cells were. Even when researchers or reporters did try to talk to her family, many of them expressed how they were sorry for their mothers lack of recognition or for the difficulties the Lacks had to face, yet still wanted information for their own gain. This can be seen as similar to the middle class mindset of trying to identify themselves and their research as better than truly they are while also differentiating themselves from the individuals below who were involved in the exploitation of Henrietta’s cells. The lack of understanding incorporated with an absence of explanation perfectly exemplifies the concept of human beings as abstractions in light of race.
“This is really where, I think, so much of biomedicine is going to be going in the twenty first century”, states Yeager. Embryonic stem cells are a new and exciting medical advance that should be researched, but the biomedical technology of the future is not worth the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives now. Although the actual procedure of retrieving stem cells from embryos is highly complicated and scientific, the ideology is quite simple. The study of stem cells that were taken from human embryos has been around since the early nineties, but until the summer of 1998, a majority of the country had been none the wiser. The country’s “non-knowledge” of this very promising medical technology may have been a blessing in disguise.
Imagine having a part of your body taken from you without your permission, and then having those cells that are a part of your body grow and are being processed in labs around the world and then ultimately being used for the highest of research. That is what happens to Henrietta Lacks. In the book, The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks, we see Henrietta Lacks and her families story unravel, the numerous hardships that they faced, and the shocking revelation that their relative cells were being used for research without her consent and theirs. Henrietta Lacks was born on August 18, 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia. She stayed with her grandfather who also took care of her other cousins, one in particular whose name is David (Day) Lacks.
The novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is written by Rebecca Skloot. This novel provides a real story regarding research using human tissue without patient’s consent. It gives the background of Henrietta Lacks and the achievements HeLa cells established to point out how fallacious it is for doctors to take the cells without asking. Through the unique pattern and devices, Skloot expresses her sympathy for the right of consent of medical research. This novel illustrates Skloot’s footsteps that uncover the truth behind Henrietta Lacks, whose cells are “immortal”, which launched a medical revolution.
The Lacks family carries a lot of distrust from having been burned by previous reporters, and not receiving any benefit from the cells Henrietta contributed to science. The book alternates between excerpts of Henrietta’s life, and moments during Skloots information search. Henrietta spent her 31-year life span as a tobacco farmer, caring for her children and husband since a young age. She is described as a beautiful woman, full of life, which is why her battle with cervical cancer contrasts so harshly in the book. In 1951 she came dow... ... middle of paper ... ...was made for monetary compensation.