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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Essay Example

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Date: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot’s book, the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a thorough description of the life of Henrietta Lacks and the cells that she unknowingly contributed for the advancement of medical research…
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Download file to see previous pages... Dr.Gey extracted some of the cells for his own research without Henrietta’s knowledge or consent. Soon, Henrietta died because of the rapid spread of her cancer. The very cells which Dr.Gey had procured became the immortal HeLa cells that are being used worldwide even today. The HeLa cells history is shrouded by a number of ethical issues. One of the very first ethical issues that I find really surprising is that the HeLa cell industry was a huge and profitable industry but Henrietta’s family were not entitled to any profits or shares. Henrietta’s cells were being commercially exploited by the researchers who made billions of dollars from it but Henrietta’s own family which was very poor, remained in that very state unaware of the riches that Henrietta’s cells were fetching others. This was purely unethical on the part of the researchers because they commercialized Henrietta’s cells without the knowledge or the approval of her husband or other family members. In fact Henrietta’s family did not even know about the existence of Henrietta’s cells. But, in the 1950’s no ethical guidelines and tissue ownership rules had been laid down. However, today we understand that commercialization of cells and tissues may be of great worth to the donors and we do have bioethical laws to protect the right of the donors. However, there are loopholes in the law which is evident from Moore’s case. Moore suffered from a very rare case of cancer- hairy leukemia, which was diagnosed by Dr.Golde but soon Golde understood that Moore’s body cells were very special. “Most cells are worth nothing individually, but Moore's were special. They produced several valuable proteins used to treat infections and cancer and carried a rare virus that might lead to treatments for H.I.V. (Skloot, 2006) and without informing Moore, Golde got a consent. Moore was unaware of his cell’s potential but soon got to know about it worth. However he lost the case because he had signed the consent form. The court however agreed that Golde should have had informed Moore about his intentions. This brings me to my second ethical issue- voluntary participation and consent. It the right of every human being to be informed about a research before he/she voluntarily participates in it. In Henrietta’s case, she had no choice of being a voluntary participant. Dr.Gey decided to extract and study the abnormal cells of Henrietta’s body. Lacks had no idea what Dr.Gey’s intentions were. Her doctor told her nothing about the cells and his personal wish to extract and study them. This was surely unethical because the tumorous cells belonged to Henrietta solely and Dr.Gey had no right to use them without the knowledge of Lacks. In case he did want to use her cells for investigation, he should have had explained the same to Henrietta and waited for her approval but instead he opted to extract the cells all by himself making Henrietta an involuntary participant in his studies. Today, researchers are bound to inform everything about the intended research before asking the participant to take part in it. Here too, the decision of participation lies solely with the participant and the researchers have no say in it. The final ethical issue that struck me was that of “confidential identity”. It should be the duty and moral obligation on part of the researcher to safeguard the true ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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