An Importance of Henrietta Lacks in Medicine

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In conclusion, without HeLa cells cancer, polio, syphilis, and AIDS would not have advanced without Henrietta Lacks. I do believe that because of the Jim Crow Laws that were enacted played a huge barrier as to how African American people were treated in healthcare due to their lack of education, poverty rate, lack of money, and their low socioeconomic status. HeLa cells helped scientist discover the different stages of cancer and how normal cells becomes cancerous. In hindsight, the unethical and immoral violations that were practiced during this time are beyond horrific. Because of the out- right deceit pertaining to Mrs. Lacks and other patients there is now informed consent forms that have to signed even if the patient is at a research hospital. No human being should be dissected and experimented on without his or her consent for any reason and for that reason there are now a code of ethics that doctors and scientists must abide by when dealing with patients, especially vulnerable ones.

This really bothered me because her family later found out what went on with their mom and Deborah took it the hardest. She was Henrietta's first daughter and it was only right that the universe connected Rebecca Skloot to her. Henrietta's story is now told and her legacy will always be remembered and not hidden due to the unethical acts those doctors and scientists did. Even though her family was never compensated, Rebecca who is the writer of the Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks, made a foundation for Henrietta and that is something worth the hurt and pain the family.

After I finished reading the book, I did a little more research on my own, I found that when Henrietta was sick she didn't inform no one of her cervical cancer at first. She just continued going to her visits at John Hopkins hospital. This goes to show that she was a very strong woman. It shows that she kept her pain to herself. While the doctor worked on her, he placed radium inside her cervix and stitched her up. While he was operating, at that time, he took several specimens of her tumors that was sent to the lab for culturing. (Skloot, 2016) Henrietta had to finally reveal to her family that she had cancer because she was required to go to Hopkins every-day for month to begin x-ray therapy. Dr. Gey removed the radium from her cervix and sent her home, but she had to come back for another treatment. Henrietta cells began to grow uncontrollably after two days. He began to share the cells with his colleagues to experiment with at first. At first Henrietta did not appear to be sick from the radiation but shortly after, she got sicker and sicker. According to Skloot, The treatments caused burning on the skin of her trunk (Skloot, 2010). Even though her health was declining, the doctors were making advances in the fight against cancer with her cells. Eventually, Henrietta's cells were shipped across the world to different labs. These labs would grow more of her cells then ship them to other doctors for their research. As Henrietta's condition worsened, the doctors could not detect that the cancer was spreading. Henrietta was experiencing some abdominal pain but she seemed fine. Henrietta voiced her concerns to the doctor's but refused to challenge them because they were white. Within weeks, she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Henrietta was sent home without any type of explanation. Her abdomen was now full of tumors and Henrietta was in excruciating pain. The doctors continued to perform radiation treatments to alleviate the pain and they wanted more cells from her cervix. These cells died immediately because her body was now filled with pollutants. The pain was so intense that morphine was not able to help ease the pain. Henrietta was dying and her body could no longer handle or process the toxins in her body. Friends and family instantly travelled to the hospital to donate blood. By this time, she was bed ridden and strapped into the bed to prevent falling and seizures. Henrietta passed away about a week later. (Skloot, 2010; Skloot, 2106)

At that time in the 50's, a lot of segregation and racist acts were being done to African Americans. According to, Jim Crow Laws were statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South. In theory, it was to create "separate but equal" treatment, but in practice Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities. This was definitely a barrier as to why blacks didn't get proper treatment from not just the public health but proper treatment overall. African Americans at that time had little to no education with lower socioeconomic statuses compared to whites. Most came from poverty just as Henrietta did. Due to these reasons they had no knowledge of healthcare. Henrietta Lacks was not the only person that received unethical treatment from the public health. There was a study done called the Tuskegee Experiment that was conducted from 1932-1972. According to, In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, began a study to record the natural history of syphilis in hopes of justifying treatment programs for blacks. It was called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. The study initially involved 600 black men 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. The study was conducted without the benefit of patients' informed consent. Researchers told the men they were being treated for bad blood, a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years. This too was an act that the public health did with doing things without the consent of patients. Many of those men died and many also passed the disease to their wives and the wives passed it to their offspring by giving birth. This goes to show the history of African Americans and how they relate to the US medical health. It is very unfortunate that these things happened and if it wasn't for those barriers these situations would have played out very differently. This book opened my eyes even more as to how the health system failed us.

No one really knew the whole story behind Henrietta Lacks and her cells. Rebecca was so determined to tell Henrietta's story she reached out to Henrietta's daughter Deborah and she told her mom's story. Henrietta Lacks was a young beautiful woman that found a lump in her vagina after doing a self-examination. She had no idea what it was at first but it never went away. She went to John Hopkins hospital and Howard Jones later diagnosed her with cervical cancer. A doctor removed a piece of her tumor without consent and gave the sample to scientist/researcher named Dr. George Otto Gey, which he experimented on to see if her cells will remain alive and grow, which they've been trying to do for years with cells of other patients. Henrietta's cells did not die compared to the other cells. Those doctors and scientists violated several moral and ethical guidelines while extracting not only Henrietta tissue without her consent but other patients cells without their consent. The story of Henrietta Lacks is one example of the malicious treatment that the African American race, poor, disabled, incarcerated, and sickly children had to endure during this time period.

For decades, scientists had been collecting tissue samples from patients without consent, searching for cells that could live outside the human body. In 1951, an African American woman by the name Henrietta Lacks entered a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland and everything changed. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Hopkins hospital. Her cancerous human tissue was so unique because it was the first cell line they discovered in over 30 years that can survive and reproduce indefinitely. Scientists were able to perform experiments that they never could before Henrietta's tissue. Her cells strains were given the name Hela. For that reason, they didn't want to disclose her name, keeping in mind they used her cells without her consent. It has been given to laboratories around the world. Used by doctors and scientist to perform experiments and research starting with the polio vaccine. Mrs. Lack's died a little after her visit to John Hopkins due to her cervical cancer with no reconciliation that she was going to make history. The Lack's family was never compensated for their mother's contribution to science. In 1954, Microbiological Associates began selling Hela cells, which gave birth to the biomedical industry. Her cells made many major medical breakthroughs and thanks to Rebecca Skloot and her obsession with Mrs. Lacks, she wanted to tell her story.

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An Importance Of Henrietta Lacks In Medicine. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved March 3, 2024 , from

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