The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks: The Inequality In Healthcare

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Would it be fair to you and your family if someone benefited from your own cells without anyone in your family knowing? This is one of the problems Henrietta Lacks and her family had to deal with in the novel The Immortal Life of Henrietta lacks. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her pains and tumors caused her to visit John Hopkins Hospital for radiation treatments. Here, doctors took samples of her tissues, one from the tumor and another from the healthy tissue nearby without her consent. These ended up becoming a major factor in scientific discovery in the medical/medicinal field. These discoveries include finding cures for polio, smallpox and other major diseases. Throughout the book, we see how racism/equality, the use of self-profiting, and trustfulness go a long way in the eyes of Henrietta. During Henrietta’s time, equality was not handed out to everyone, especially to those of color. Since Henrietta trusted in the doctors, who worked on her, for they knew what they were doing, her trust for them backfired when the doctors, more specifically Dr. George Grey, withdrew her cells without her consent or her freaking knowledge. This eventually evolved into the doctor’s own profit in the medical fields since Henrietta’s cells were functioning. During the 1950s and 1960s, equality for colored people was nonexistent, especially towards health and medical care. The majority of hospitals only ministered to white people and only a certain amount of hospitals treated black people. John Hopkins Hospital was the only hospital in Henrietta’s area to treat the colored. At Johns Hopkins, blacks were treated with all the equipment needed to fulfill their medical needs; however,it was not treated as sufficient as the whites. Even though blacks were given treatment, it was far worse than that of whites due to their race and lack of money to pay for the treatments. In this hospital, “several studies have shown that black patients were treated and hospitalized at later stages of their illness than white patients, they received fewer pain medications, and as a result, they had a higher mortality rate” (64). This was exemplified in how the doctors treated Henrietta and her family.

Science is based on cold, hard facts, and the attitude the scientific community developed is on par with just that mentality. These doctors figured that since the Lacks were a poor, black farming family who did not make as much as a typical white family, they could take advantage and do things without the family’s consent, such as taking samples of Henrieta’s cells without them knowing, even though Henrietta signed a form that stated: “I hereby give consent to the staff of the John Hopkins Hospital to perform any operative procedures” (31). Also due to Henrietta trusting the doctors in whatever they did to “help” her, these doctors exploited her by doing what they felt would be self-beneficial towards themselves. These doctors kept Henrietta unaware of the HeLa cells so they could make profits off of it by distributing it to medical centers everywhere. This was not only done by the family’s lack of knowing, but also by Dr.Gey and his drive towards medical success. Doing this not only went to prove that Dr.Gey was a “genesis” in discovering this, but it also showed how one could sink so low as to take away one’s tissue without them knowing. 

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