How is the ethical principle of autonomy honored or violated in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the most powerful books that I have read in a long time. Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who discovered she had cervical cancer in the 40s. The tumor was biopsied and eventually the doctors learned that her cells could survive and even multiply themselves. Henrietta eventually died from the cancer, but her legacy lives on to this day. The medical breakthroughs we can credit her with are numerous, but at what cost? That is the real question. 

Henrietta was a very poor woman and her consent was never given for the doctors to keep her cells. She had no idea what was going on. Unfortunately she died before she could find out. The practice of autonomy recognizes the rights of individuals to self determine what can be used from their bodies. The big question is whether the doctors used Henrietta's cells to help save lives and benefit the good of humankind, or just to make money?

I think Henrietta was both honored and violated. I think she would have wanted to help save as many people as possible, but I also think she was violated because her family has never seen any money from this. The pharmaceutical companies have made a ton of money from the scientific advances made with her cells, yet her family is still living in poor conditions. It is a very fine line people are walking in the name of science. So many lives have been saved from the research done with her cells, but her family deserves to be honored for the mother they had and the sacrifices she made in her life. 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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