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

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Skloot writes on page 31, "Henrietta signed a consent form that said, 'I hereby give consent to the staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital to perform any operative procedures and under any anesthetic either local or general that they may deem necessary in the proper surgical care and treatment (blank).' " After signing this, did Henrietta give consent for the medical team to do what was done to her? In regards to this, what rights do you think her family should have now? Why? 

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There is little argument that the cells harvested from Henrietta Lacks, known in research as the HeLa cell line, paved the way for lifesaving biomedical and pharmaceutical discoveries. The question of whether these cells were harvested ethically, however, is much more nuanced.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor Southern black woman receiving medical care in the segregated public wards of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the 1950s. She was treated at a public research hospital less than a decade after the Nuremberg Code (1947) established international standards for ethics in medicine and decades before the National Research Act (1974) and the Belmont Report (1979) established ethical standards for medical research in the United States. As Skloot writes:

Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment. And as Howard Jones once wrote, “Hopkins, with its large indigent black population,...

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