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

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In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, who is Dr. Wharton?

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Dr. Wharton is a character who appears in this text in Chapter 4, and is the doctor who treats her tumour by sewing a plaque filled with radium into Henrietta's cervix. However, although he is a very minor character and only appears this once in this text, what is important about him is what he did without informing Henrietta or her family:

But first--though no one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples of asked if she wanted to be a donor--Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta's cervix: one from her tumour, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby. 

It is this sample that is used to discover HeLa and which is then subsequently used for so much scientific research. However, as the quote explains, the issue is that this sample was taken without informed consent, even though this was regular practice at the time, and therefore it raises huge ethical questions about the justice and legality of how HeLa cells were used for research when they were taken in such a way in the first place. Dr. Wharton therefore is a very minor character in the story of Henrietta Lacks, but he is significant for this action of taking cells without consent. 

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broscover | Student

Dr. Wharton in, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is the doctor that took cancer cells from Henrietta without her knowledge or permission. Some of the most important discoveries were made from those cells. They had not been able to get cancer cells to reproduce in a laboratory setting until her cells. Henrietta dies of cervical cancer and never knew they took her cancer cells. The family did not even find out until many years later.