Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who lived in the mid twentieth century. She was discovered to have cervical cancer, which was the cause of her death in nineteen fifty one. Cells taken from her without her knowledge were discovered to contain a unique property in that they did not degenerate after several rounds of cell division, and they also did not die as fast as other normal cells. Henrietta’s Hela cells were of great assistance to the field of medicine as they made it possible for doctors to study the effects of various substances on cells, which were identical. As shown below, her story should be included in our history text as she was the key to many ground-breaking discoveries.
Hela cells were identified as immortal, and are still used in modern labs because of this property. Hela cells have proved very helpful in comparing the effects of many substances on human tissue as one can get enough original cells to be used to have an acceptable comparison. They have been used to test the effects of radiation, viral growth, and exposure to the space atmosphere on human skin and were instrumental in the developmental of the polio vaccine (Starr 94). Hela cells were produced to test the Polio vaccine so that a non-lethal vaccine could be developed, which has affected the lives of many people, including mine as I have been vaccinated against the disease. They have also been used in cancer and HIV/AIDS research, and in gene mapping so that causes of the process of ageing can be identified (Elder and Dale 17).
Henrietta lacks’ cells have played a crucial role in the development of modern science and technology, and their ability to not die has proved important in testing of substances on human tissue. Her case should be included in history books as she played an important role in the development of modern medicine, including the polio vaccine and we can only benefit from learning more about her life.
The Role Henrietta lacks played in the development of medicine was significant, but against her will. Her life story should be included in our class texts as a lesson on the dangers of unregulated medical practices as well as the lack of legislature on bio-research.
Henrietta was not consulted about the use of her cells in research, and died without any knowledge of them being used. This does raise the question of the power that doctors have to use a patient’s parts for research without requesting for its use (Serlin 54). Even though the cells have significantly helped the field of medicine, and were crucial in ending one of the most deadly diseases in human history, polio, the manner in which the cells were acquired received public disapproval. People felt that doctors should not have used her tissue without informing her about it. The story of Henrietta lacks demonstrates the lack of protocol in differentiating between the treatment of human parts, especially those of someone who is still alive and animals (Norman). It also demonstrates the lack of responsibility of the doctors on informing her about what they were doing with her gathered cells.
The case of Henrietta Lacks also demonstrated the need for regulation in the field of medical research and the lack of law in protecting patients’ rights, more so regarding donations without consent (Keiger). No action was taken against the doctors for their action, and the family members could not have any action taken against the doctors who did so because there was no law that prevented them from using her cells for research without her consent (Hoffman, Tomes, Grob and Schlesinger 88).
Henrietta Lacks case demonstrates the importance of ethics in the medical field as she was not consulted about the use of her cells for research. No action was taken against the doctors because there was no law preventing them from using the cells. The law students should use her case study to learn what happens when an industry is not regulated. As more is studied about her, we can learn how to prevent such a case from happening again.
Elder, Kay and Dale, Brian. In-Vitro Fertilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2011.
Hoffman, Beatrix R, Nancy Tomes, Rachel Grob, and Mark Schlesinger. Patients as Policy Actors: A Century of Changing Markets and Missions. New Jersey: Rutgers, 2011.
Keiger, Dale. Immortal Cells Enduring Issue. Johns Hopkins Magazine. 2 June 2010. Online. 20 July 2014. < http://archive.magazine.jhu.edu/2010/06/immortal-cells-enduring-issues/>
Norman, Brian. Dead Women Talking: Figures of Injustice in American Literature. John Hopkins: Maryland, 2013.
Serlin, David. Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture. Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 2010.
Starr, Cecie. Biology Today and Tomorrow with Physiology. Thomson Brooks/Cole: California 2007.