The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

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In nature, success is measured by fitness-- or the ability to pass on one’s genes to the next generation. Passing on genes to the next generation ensures a type of immortality; humans do not live forever, therefore, their genes continue on for centuries through their lineage. Henrietta Lacks, however, was the first person to become immortal outside of reproduction-- through cells. As discussed in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Henrietta was an African-American woman whose cancerous cells were extracted to create the first immortal cell line, more commonly referred to as HeLa cells. HeLa cells would become an asset in medicine and continue to exist in labs all around the world, long after Henrietta’s death (Skloot, 2010). Henrietta Lacks …show more content…

She was a poor, uneducated, colored female living in the 1950’s. Many medical professionals and scientists of the time believed that colored people were privileged to be receiving treatment; therefore, they should be allowed to extract, inject, and experiment on colored people in the name of science. The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment is a prime example of this sentiment. Additionally, many doctors did not believe it was important to justify themselves, because their poor, uneducated patients would not understand regardless. This sense of inferiority led to a lack of explanations from doctors and a lack of questions from patients. During an interview in a later chapter, Day, Henrietta’s husband, said, “I’ve always just knowed this much: they is the doctor, and you got to go by what they say. I don’t know as much as they do” (Skloot, 2010, p. 120). It was an inherent rule of society during this time period that people of color did not question whites in authority. Had Henrietta been a wealth white woman, the doctors would not have treated her so disposably. HeLa cells may not have even existed, because doctors would have been more likely to ask for permission. Had she refused, they would have been more likely to respectfully abstain from removing her tissue. Henrietta was only one of hundreds of poor, African-American women that visited Hopkins to …show more content…

I held the misbelief that we must have developed laws by now that clearly regulated issues such as consent in tissue research. However, to learn that the Common Rule which “requires informed consent for all human-subject research” does not apply-- because tissue research is not federally funded and the researcher never truly meets the “donor”, therefore, the donor is not considered a human-- was appalling (Skloot, 2010, p 231). To know that every research facility, doctor's office, and any other institution to conduct tissue research is not legally bound by the same restrictions is somewhat terrifying, because “guidelines and ethical codes are not laws” (Skloot, 2010, p.

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