“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by R.Skloot Essay
The story of Henrietta Lacks highlights the importance of ethical principles in scientific research. Moreover, it shows that modern scholars have to pay much more attention to the rights of an individual. It should be noted that the cells of this woman were used to develop an immortal cell line, and it was important for many subsequent studies (Skloot, 2011).
Moreover, she did not give an informed consent to this procedure. This paper is aimed at discussing various questions that are related to this case. Overall, it is possible to argue that the rights of a person should be the top priority for scientists, and the interests of subjects or patients should be considered first. This is one of the main arguments that can be made.
First of all, there are several reasons why the researchers did not ask Henrietta’s permission. At that time, the activities of scientists were not closely regulated, and many ethical aspects of their work were disregarded. For example, one should mention that such a concept as informed consent emerged only in 1957, and it was six years after the death of Henrietta (Skloot, 2011, p. 132).
This is one of the aspects that can be identified. Secondly, Henrietta Lacks was a member of the African-American community, and this population was not sufficiently empowered at least in terms of civic rights. Therefore, the researchers did not expect to face any legal challenges.
So, one has to speak about such factors as the legal environment of that period and racial discrimination. This is one of the reasons why scientists did not ask Henrietta for her permission. In their opinion, it was not even necessary.
In turn, the relatives of Henrietta also did not know anything about the use of her cells for various studies and experiements. It should be noted that these people could demand for financial compensation, and these demands could pose some difficulties for governmental organizations and private companies that might use HeLa cells for pharmaceutical studies (Brodwin, 2000, p. 68).
This issue is particularly important if one takes into account that these cells were instrumental for a great number of studies. To a great extent, the relatives of Henrietta Lacks could be regarded as the heirs who could ask for a certain share of the profit.
Again, it is possible to argue that the socio-economic status of African-American community can explain the actions of those people who used HeLa cells. They did not believe that the relatives of Henrietta Lacks could uphold their rights in the court. This is one of the main issues that should be considered.
In my opinion, it is unethical to take the cells of Henrietta Lacks and derive profit from their use without asking for this woman for her permission. In this context, the term ethical can be interpreted as something that complies with the rules established within a particular group or community (Rogelberg, 2008, p. 34). There are some of the norms that have been established in some community.
In particular, an individual has an unalienable right to his/her body, and any use of it should be based on the informed agreement of the person (Rogelberg, 2008, p. 34). More importantly, an individual is entitled to financial compensation provided that his/her property is used for commercial purposes (Rogelberg, 2008, p. 34).
It should be taken into consideration that HeLa cells were important for the development of many drugs such as polio vaccine (Brodwin, 2000, p. 68). Therefore, I think that the descendents of Henrietta should receive compensation. The main question is how the amount of this compensation can be determined.
It seems that this reimbursement should be a certain percentage of profits that were derived from the research involving the cell of Henrietta. This reimbursement should be provided by both governmental and private organizations that relied on this genetic material. It seems that such an approach to this ethical dilemma can be quite justified.
The unfolding of this story produced a profound effect on the lives of her husband and children. For example, her daughter Deborah began to think about the danger of cancer and the idea that her own children could live their mother (Skloot, 2011, p. 135). This is the thought that he desperately tried to avoid.
One can argue that this sensation can be damaging for a person. On the whole, they were more affected by the disturbing memories of Henrietta Lacks. To a great extent, these events produced a disturbing effect on these people. This is one the main aspects that cannot be identified.
This example suggests that in many cases, people do not have complete control over their bodies. Still, I would not object if my tissues had been used for some biological research, especially if in this way, they can find a cure for some disease or virus. Nevertheless, I would insist that a scientist or physician asks for my consent because it means that he/she respects my civic rights.
As it has been said before, the interests of a patient or research participant should the first priority for the scientists, even if they are on the verge of making a breakthrough discovery. At this point, I cannot tell whether I will necessarily demand for my compensation because I understand that I will not be contributing significantly to this study, its design, or analysis of data. So, it is not likely that I will insist on any significant reimbursement.
It is possible to draw parallels between these case Henrietta Lacks and the problem of abortion. In each of these situations, one can speak about such a concept as a person’s right to his/her body. One of the questions that are often debated is the extent to which a person has control over his/her body. However, there are several important differences. In particular, when speaking about abortion, one should remember about the fetus.
The main question that should be considered is whether this creature can be viewed as a human being. In contrast, Henrietta Lacks had full control over her body. This is one of the main differences that should be considered by legislators and researchers since these people are responsible for maintaining the rights of patients and subjects.
On the whole, these examples suggest that scientific inquiry involves ethical choices that people have to make. The case of Henrietta Lacks shows that in the middle of the twentieth century, the rights of individuals were not properly upheld by the state. Moreover, the needs of her family were disregarded. This problem was particularly aggravated by racial discrimination.
Brodwin, P. (2000). Biotechnology and culture: bodies, anxieties, ethics. Blooomington: Indiana University Press.
Rogelberg, S. (2008). Handbook of Research Methods in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.
Skloot, R. (2011). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway.
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