How is the cell tissue ownership issue a socioeconomic issue?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henrietta Lacks was a very poor black tobacco farmer, who was suffering from cervical cancer. In 1951 she died and her cells were taken without her knowledge. Her family did not know about his until years later. 

The cells of Henrietta are one of the most important tools in medicine used today, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro and many more scientific uses. In 1951, George Gey, was a doctor who was 30 years into a quest to culture "immortal" cell lines: human cells that would reproduce endlessly in test tubes to provide a steady supply of cells for medical research. The cells, which are known as HeLa, began reproducing after 24 hours and they still continue to reproduce to this day. The cells have been sold to many companies, all without the family receiving any money. Although the cells have made headlines around the world, and have helped endless amounts of people, where is the ethical line at? Being a poor black woman in 1951, meant that Henrietta didn't have any say so about her health. She was never given the choice of having her tissue donated. Was all of this done, because of her background? We as humans have to look at this. Yes, there have been so many medical breakthroughs, because of the science behind her tissue, but that doesn't mean it is right. Doctor's take an ethical oath. Did they break that oath with her? 

Henrietta's life was one of being in the poorest brackets. She couldn't afford healthcare, and her family today still can't afford it. Her tissues have made so many companies and people rich. So many people are well, or have children, because of the research done on her tissues, but her family still struggles to this day. There is a line here that doctors have crossed. Her family deserves some answers. All of this could have been avoided if she had been given the choice. Henrietta Lacks truly is immortal. Her tissues and cells have been so fundamental in the health of all of us, but at what price to her family? It is such a fine line between science and ethics.

pegasus101 | Student

Thank you

Read the study guide:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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