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Immoral Treatment of Henrietta Lacks

Updated October 3, 2021
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Immoral Treatment of Henrietta Lacks essay

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Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins hospital with the complaint of feeling a lump in her abdomen by her uterus. The doctor took a biopsy of her cervix and days later they got the results saying she had cancer. “Jones got her biopsy results from the pathology lab: “Epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, stage I.”” (Skloot, 27). She had the type of cervical cancer that the doctors would treat, invasive cervical cancer. Due to the color of her skin Henrietta was treated in the colored public ward, where doctors would take cell samples from the cervix of women with cervical cancers without their knowledge. Henrietta’s cancer cells were taken during her first radiation treatment, “Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby.” (Skloot, 33).

I believe that it was extremely immorally wrong of doctors to take cells samples from patients without their consent. However, I believe that the only reason these doctors got away with taking cell samples is because they only took them from African American patients. During the fifties racism was still very prominent so the people who would’ve prevented these samples didn’t because they most likely were for the experiments. Dr. George Gey was the man who took these cells in hopes of growing the first “immortal” cells. The famous HeLa cells were taken from a patient who didn’t consent or even know her cells were being taken to the lab for experiments. Even though what the doctors did was wrong, it ended up helping many people.

For treatment Lack’s did what many other black lower-class patients did during the 1950’s, she went to the colored only ward at Johns Hopkins. For her first treatments she received radium treatments in her cervix and was sent home. Later, when her cancer had progressed, she was given stronger treatments such as radiation treatments. These treatments were harsh on her body and left her skin badly burnt. “Until that moment, Henrietta didn’t know that the treatments had left her infertile.” (Skloot, 47). This was another immorally wrong thing that happened to her, most likely because of her race. Henrietta was never told she wouldn’t be able to have any more children after the radiation therapy on her cervix.

Towards the end on Henrietta’s life she was admitted to Johns Hopkins due to severe pain from the cancer which had metastasized throughout her body. She was given blood transfusions but those eventually stopped because the doctors believed that since she was black, she wasn’t worth any more of the blood banks blood. I believe that people should have been treated the same and she should’ve been allowed blood transfusions till she passed. The treatment Henrietta received should’ve been improved greatly, she was just a person who was looking for help. Through Henrietta’s suffering she has saved many others and her HeLa cells advanced medicine to where it is today.

Works Cited

  1. Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishers New York, 2010.
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