Henrietta Lacks Essays

Essay Introduction

Getting informed consent and maintaining patient privacy has always been stressed as one of the most critical roles in healthcare. The medical field involves having access to highly personal patient information, and it is crucial to follow HIPPA guidelines and keep that knowledge private.

Research Paper on Henrietta Lacks

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Henrietta Lacks develops an aggressive cervical cancer, and her cells change the world. Henrietta went into surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital for radium treatment of her cancer; while she was unconscious, the surgeon on duty collected samples of her tissue to be sent to the lab where Dr. George Gey monitored their growth. After careful observation, they realized that they had discovered the first human immortal cells; they called them “HeLa.” Henrietta’s cells were shipped to researchers around the world and used to perform experiments, searching for a way to kill cancerous cells while keeping healthy ones alive. This was all legal at the time; the only guideline involving informed consent was the Nuremberg Code, which was made to try and protect human rights.

Argumentative Essay Examples of Henrietta Lacks

Scientists disregarded the ethical principles of this code and took Henrietta’s cells without her knowledge or consent. After Henrietta’s death, more of her cells were taken from her body. An immunologist named Chester M. Southam began injecting HeLa cells into patients and prisoners to observe if they would grow or not. In 1965, he was found guilty of unethical conduct, and stricter guidelines were demanded by the public. This wasn’t the only case of unethical practices and blatant disregard for patient consent. Between 1932 and 1972, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted with African American men in order to observe the progression of untreated Syphilis. None of the men were told that they had Syphilis; they were lied to and left untreated just for research purposes. The failure of treatment led to the spreading of the disease to families and death for many of those that had contracted the disease. (Paul, 2015).

Thesis Statement for Henrietta Lacks

The buildup of these unethical research studies eventually led to a new law involving consent. In 1974, The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects was published, requiring all human data collected for research to involve informed consent.

In another case, John Moore, whose tissues were unknowingly being used to create a cell line named “Mo,” was also taken advantage of. Moore was diagnosed with hairy-cell leukemia; he was referred to and treated by Physician David Golde at UCLA. Golde told him the only treatment they could really do was remove his spleen. After treatment, Moore returned to LA for follow-ups every few months, where Golde continued to take tissue samples from him which he was using to create this expensive cell line. It was debated whether this was unethical and should be stopped or if it was pertinent to medical research and advancement and should continue.

Once Moore was made aware of what his cells were being used for, he tried to sue UCLA for their unethical actions but did not succeed. The judge stated that if people really cared that much about what their cells were being used for in research, someone would have sued over the use of HeLa cells. If taking tissue samples and using them for research without consent was made illegal, researchers around the world would be in trouble. In 1988, The California Court of Appeals ruled in Moore’s favor, stating that patients are allowed to have control over what happens to their tissues. Eventually, this was overruled, and it was settled that tissues taken from your body were no longer considered yours once they were removed. Today, consent is needed before taking your cells to be used for research but beyond that; we have no control.

Violation of Patient Confidentiality in Henrietta Lacks’ Case: Research Papers Ideas 

In 1985, a book was published by Michael Gold called A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman’s Immortal Legacy and the Medical Scandal it Caused. This book contained information directly from Henrietta’s medical records and very personal information about her. Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, got a hold of a copy of the book and read detailed information about Henrietta’s health decline until her death. Reading all about this for the first time had a huge effect on Deborah’s physical and emotional state, as it would any child reading about their mother being exposed in this way. After reading this, I felt as though Gold had put no thought into what effect publishing this information may have on Henrietta’s family.

He was looking at the case as more of a scientific study rather than a human being going through a traumatic experience. It was unsettling to read about the detail that was published regarding Henrietta’s physical state in the hospital. At the time, publishing this medical information received from the hospital wasn’t illegal. There were many states that had confidentiality laws regarding patients’ medical records, but there was no such law in Maryland where this was taking place. Although it wasn’t illegal, giving these records to the journalist in the first place is definitely a breach of patient confidentiality which all physicians promise to respect when signing the Hippocratic Oath. Today, publishing such information is highly illegal and not something a journalist or doctor would easily get away with.

The Scientific Side of the Henrietta Lacks Story: Unveiling the Mystery of Immortal Cells

Henrietta’s cells are considered “immortal” throughout this book; in 1984, research finally uncovered why exactly her cells didn’t die and what caused this. A virologist named Harald Zur Hausen discovered the Human Papilloma Virus 18. He believed this strain of HPV was responsible for the cervical cancer that Henrietta developed, and he was right. In normal, healthy cells, each chromosome contains a compound structure called a “telomere.” Each time the cell divides, the telomere shortens until, eventually, the cell dies. Henrietta’s cells were different; they didn’t die because these cancerous cells contained “telomerase.” Instead of shrinking, these cells add nucleotides as they divide and continue to grow and grow; this is why Henrietta’s cancer cells continued to divide and were “immortal.”

The Humanitarian Aspect in Healthcare: An Argumentative Perspective on Patient Trust and Autonomy

While reading this book, I noticed an ongoing theme of healthcare workers being more concerned with the use of patients’ tissues to conduct research than the actual human being themselves and their rights. From everything I have learned throughout nursing school, patient confidentiality is extremely important because, without it, we lose patient trust, which diminishes our ability to care for them. I undoubtedly believe that all patients should be aware of what is being done with their tissue and must give consent for it to be taken from them. After reading this, I understand more now that hospitals are here to help people heal, but they are also businesses and sometimes don’t take into consideration how certain business-like aspects can make patients feel dehumanized.

It has made me realize that sometimes you might not know everything that is going on even when you think you do because people can easily keep information from you. I don’t think taking tissue and performing research without consent from the person involved is ever okay. I also think it’s really important to keep patients informed, even if it may risk their willingness to participate and donate their tissue. A patient should also have full control over any medical documents that are shared about them, and if they aren’t there to give consent, then they should be kept private. I think that patient autonomy, rights, and confidentiality are some of the most important parts of health care and should always be considered.


In a recent lawsuit to make up for the injustice that the Lack family was put through, Lawrence Lacks Jr. is suing for guardianship of the HeLa cells. There is a question of whether these cells can sue for the theft, mistreatment, and profit unethically made off them without any consent. Considering Henrietta has passed away and never gave consent in the first place, I believe that the family has every right to sue and receive compensation for the misfortunes they were put through.

Cells were taken from Henrietta’s body without her knowing and used for copious amounts of research around the world. Personal information was shared about her without any consent or knowledge from the family. Although this wasn’t illegal at the time, it was done with such inconsideration and violation of the Hippocratic Oath that I believe Henrietta’s family should have a voice and finally receive justice for the malpractice they faced.

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