Reflection on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a woman whose life is now becoming so well known today because of the willingness of those that came after her to share her story via both book and movie. After both reading and watching her story, I feel as though I have gained a deeper look and understanding into her story and her family’s story by the persistence of writer, Rebecca Skloot. As I reflect on her story I have taken a look at specific questions in regards to the situation she and her family faced.
  1. How would you feel/react if you knew doctors had taken cells/tissue from a family member without consent?  If I was made aware that doctors had taken cells or tissues from my family member without consent, I would feel betrayed in a way because to me, my family’s life is more important than a study. No one deserves to have a piece of someone’s life taken away without their consent because they need to use it for a new scientific study. However with that said, if the doctors were to ask me, I would more than likely be willing to help given the circumstances if I was in the know that this study was for a good cause not just money.
  2. George Gey didn’t make money from the HeLa cell line. He also didn’t patent the roller drum that could have made him a fortune. What does this say about Gey and his character? This does say that Gey’s character was one for improving the world of medicine, and not putting his life in the midst of breaking news, media, or money. He did this work solely for the purpose of getting his scientific work to progress and make breakthroughs in science forever.
  3. Does a patient retain rights to his/her cells/tissue after they are removed from the body? Why or why not? I feel as though this ethical question could take many turns towards both sides of its argument. In a way, I could see how a patient has every right to his/her body regardless of it being the tiniest cells to the biggest of bones. However with that said, once removed from the body and relabeled for scientific study and research, it could be understood that these are no longer in the ownership rights of that individual, but rather come from that person to be studied and now owned by the research facility.
  4. If you had cells that could lead to a great medical discovery, would you donate them for “the good of science,” or would you sell them? Explain your answer. If I had cells that could lead to a great medical discovery, I would probably consider donating them for the “good of science” with my future generations in mind. If I were to go through with this, I would be very careful and specific in the process of allowing this to happen, in the hopes that these would be in extremely good and smart hands.

After reflecting on these ethical questions, I think the story of Henrietta Lacks is truly a very emotional and sensitive topic given the backstory and generation as to when it occurred. However, I give the family and Rebecca an immense amount of praise and credit for staying strong and getting Henrietta’s story known, because her life and what came out of it changed medicine forever.

Image Citation:
“Ethics of Informed Consent and the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks.” Rabin Martin | Ideas Change Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017. <;.

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