A Social Importance of Henrietta Lacks

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Henrietta Lacks was a young woman of African origin whose cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge or the knowledge of her family. However, the cells eventually became one of the most significant factors causing vital medical and scientific achievements in the 20th century (Instaread, 2015). The family of Henrietta Lacks only came to know after scientists had started using the cells in their medical and scientific experiments. There was nothing the family could do, but endure confusion and heartache in several years that followed.

Lacks lived and grew in Clover, Virginia. As a poor black woman, Lacks worked on tobacco plantation with Tommy Lacks, her grandfather, and several of her cousins, such as David Day Lacks. David Day later became the husband to Henrietta Lacks. Day and Henrietta moved to Turner Station in search for a better job at a steel mill (Instaread, 2015). They had a family of five children including Lawrence and Elsie. Elsie suffered from epilepsy and was mentally challenged. Other children were David Sonny, Deborah, and Joe.

At the age of 29, after the birth of Joe, Henrietta discovered abnormal bleeding as well as a lump in the lower side of her abdomen. She was referred to John Hopkins Hospital. Following a medical examination, doctors found a cancerous tumor on her cervix (Instaread, 2015). It was recommended that she frequently visit the hospital for tests. Unfortunately, the doctors did not tell her that she had cancer. As her health condition deteriorated, she informed the doctors that she felt she had cancer. Cancer was quickly spreading in her body and tumors eventually appeared on her internal organs. The cancer condition of Henrietta Lacks could not be helped by pain medication or radiation treatments. Therefore, Lacks died in 1951.

During the first radiation treatment of Lacks, the doctor took samples of her cancerous and normal cells. The surgeon gave the samples to George Gey, the head of Tissue Culture Research of John Hopkins. Mary Kubicek, the assistant to Gey, named the cells HeLa Cells. It was later realized that the cancer cells were actually immortal and they could not definitely divide outside the human body. The cells were given away to several hospitals, researchers, and scientists without the knowledge of Lacks or her family (Instaread, 2015). At that time, one of the greatest outbreaks of polio was happening. HeLa cells were susceptible to polio, and for that reason, the cells became an excellent specimen to experiment vaccines and cures. The Tuskegee Institute had the intention of widely sharing HeLa cells, and it established a HeLa Distribution Center. The center also wanted to ensure that HeLa cells become a polio vaccine.

HeLa cells continued to contribute to an immense number of scientific and medical developments. The cells assisted scientists to standardize the field of tissue culture. The standardization gave room for replication of other experiments of scientists. The replication enabled the scientific world to confirm and test hypotheses (Instaread, 2015). The cells also spearheaded other medical development such as techniques of freezing cells to ship them across the world. Scientists also learnt to suspend cells in various states for future research and studies. For good measure, the cells enabled scientists to advance the progressing field of human genetics that aided doctors to diagnose genetic diseases. In the medicine field, HeLa cells enabled scientists to perform experiments using hormones, vitamins, diagnostic tests, viruses, cloning, and animal hybrids.

A multiple perspective approach suggests that any problem arising from a system or phenomenon needs to be addressed with a number of perspectives. Each perspective should entail a different world view to challenge the dynamic of ideas and questions. The multiple perspective method postulates that problems need to be addressed from a fact-finding and technical point of view. The point of view could also involve social relationships and organizational perspective (Iltis, 2013). In solving the problem, an individual should assess the problem, rank it, and come up with alternate solutions. A multiple perspective method finds solutions to problems because it entails evaluating the problems critically.

One ethical issue or problem that could be solved through the help of a multiple perspective approach is the profit objective that is prioritized by healthcare systems. Many for-profit healthcare systems put making money as their first goal ahead of providing quality and safe healthcare to patients (Iltis, 2013). Relating the money-oriented goal of for-profit healthcare organizations to the story of Henrietta Lacks discloses that Lacks was a victim of such organizations. Despite HeLa cells spearheading unprecedented advancements and innovations in the medicine and scientific fields, neither Lacks nor her family was compensated accordingly.

Therefore, if Henrietta Lacks were alive to see the way research centers, scientists, and hospitals made huge amounts of money after stealing her cancer cells, she would strongly start a global campaign to end for-profit healthcare organizations. What John Hopkins, scientists, and research centers did to Lacks and her family was unfair and Lacks would want justice be served by ending for-profit healthcare organizations. The social stand that Henrietta Lacks would take on the profit-oriented goal of healthcare organizations is strong opposition of their goal. In fact, she would want all for-profit healthcare systems be immediately turned into not-for-profit healthcare organize to help the organizations comprehend the economic dynamics of healthcare delivery.

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A Social Importance Of Henrietta Lacks. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved April 13, 2024 , from

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