In 2010, author Rebecca Skloot published the #1 New York Times bestselling book titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book is a very thoughtful examination of the moral and ethical principles regarding the lack of consent on Henrietta’s behalf to donate her cells to science. It is filled with first hand accounts from her family and friends about their experiences that resulted from Henrietta’s unbeknownst scientific contribution.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She was treated by having radium tubes implanted on her cervix with the hopes of them shrinking her tumor. During the procedure, doctors obtained samples of healthy and cancerous cells without asking her permission. Dr. George Otto Gey was able to isolate and grow the cancerous cells in his laboratory, and developed what became known as the HeLa immortal cell line. They have been used ever since for the advancement of science for things as extensive as creating the Polio Vaccine – a truly amazing discovery that helped many people. Since the cell line was developed, an estimated more than 20 tons of HeLa cells involving more than 11,000 patents have been distributed to scientists all over the world. At present day, you can still purchase a vial of HeLa cells to conduct your own research.
Do you think that doctors should have been allowed to obtain a sample of Henrietta’s cells without her permission and distribute them for the greater good of science? With all the advances in medical regulations and ethical principles that have occurred since 1951, do you think HeLa cells should still be available to the public?
At IMARC Research, we are devoted to protecting the rights, safety, and well-being of clinical trial participants by ensuring that clinical research studies are conducted with the highest ethical standers according to the Federal Regulations. We would love to hear your thoughts about this topic, and highly recommend the book.
Photo Credit: Myles!