The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Questions and Answers
by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
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Does System Theory Perspective have influence on the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? If so, are there any examples to help me better understand the material?

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Madeleine Wells eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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First, I would like to define what System Theory is. A very basic explanation is that system theory is the study of a broad range of systems; by testing hypotheses, scientists hope that whatever they find will be useful across a broad range of systems (or fields).

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of how Henrietta Lacks's malignant cervical cells continue to be used by scientists for the purpose of medical research. While this market-driven (profit-driven) field of medical research has spurred countless medical advances which have saved countless lives, the family of Henrietta Lacks have not been given any share of the profits. The HeLa line of cells have allowed scientists to continue to study human cells, develop cancer treatments and produce the polio vaccine, the cancer drug tamoxifen, chemotheraphy, gene mapping, in-vitro fertilization and treatments for influenza, leukemia and Parkinson's Disease. While these are wonderful developments, Systems Theory does not take into consideration family and medical privacy and the rights of families to share in the profits that the cells of their loved ones have contributed to.

Another ethical dilemma arises from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: do doctors have the right to take someone's cells from them without asking (as in the case of Henrietta Lacks) if it will be used for the purpose of saving other lives across a broad range of medical emergencies? Also, once taken, how will the identity of the patient "donor" be protected? What if the patient's family refuses permission and the doctors take the cells anyway? The physicians and scientists in the Henrietta Lack case have reasoned that the medical advantages of using the HeLa line to help patients across a broad spectrum of diseases (systems theory) far outweigh the sociological and ethical considerations against one patient and her family.

Hope this helps!

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