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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The amazing and important movements in science, can almost always, be traced back to Henrietta Lacks. Her cells have paved the way for tremendous improvements in the medical care we receive today, however there are so many questions that have been raised about ethics and the way the cells were taken. Henrietta did sign the paper mentioned above, and during that time in history, the paper was a kind of consent form. During the 1950's a consent form for harvesting cells, or whatever else, was not needed. It was not against the law for them to take her cells, however as an ethical question, it has become a much broader problem.
Henrietta was a poor black woman, whose cells have lived on, long after her death. Her cells, known as HeLa, have helped science and us in many ways. It was used in the making of the vaccine for polio and many other scientific finds. The biggest issue is the ethical question. Was it ethical for the doctors to sell parts of her cells? Her family didn't know anything about it, and this raises another question. Where do we draw the line? How far is too far in the name of science? Yes, we owe so much to the study of Henrietta's cells, and yes, there have been major breakthroughs in how we can treat and fight these terrible diseases, but is it ethical?
The pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune with the outcome of this study, while Henrietta's family continued to live in the poorest of conditions. Her family couldn't even afford their own health insurance, but the big companies were getting richer and richer. So in answer to your question, yes Henrietta did give a form of consent by signing the paper, but again, consent was not made back then. It was legal for the doctor's to remove and study her cells, however, what was done to her family was not right. In 2013 the family was given some control over access to the codes for HeLa, but the family is still not in control. The problem with all of this, to me, is that what was done with the cells, wasn't ethical. If the family had been able to make the decision, then we could look at this differently, but they weren't given the opportunity to do this, so the ethical question is still very much alive, just like Henrietta's cells. Henrietta's family should have received something from the sale of her cells, after all it is their family history.
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