The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 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...

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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novelist224 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a tough question, because times and laws have changed greatly since Henrietta Lacks's cells were harvested in 1951.

According to the law, the doctors didn't need Henrietta's permission to use her cells after her death, but in my personal opinion, the form that you quoted did not grant them the rights to do so anyway. That form only pertains to what happens during surgery, not after. It gives doctors permission 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." This form only gives them permission to do what is "necessary" to provide proper surgical care and treatment, and extracting her cells for later use (outside of Henrietta's own health care) is not a necessary part of the surgical process.

However, we cannot exactly hold the people of 1951 to the same laws as our time, so it would be difficult for Henrietta's family to be given a retroactive opportunity to claim any...

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Sarah Miles eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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