The Controversy of Henrietta Lacks

“There are at least two issues that cases like Mrs. Lacks’s raise,” says Ruth Faden…

“One is the question of consent, and the other is what, if anything, is morally or legally due to a person if something of commercial value is developed from their cells.” The story of HeLa cells is one of great controversy that has been argued about for decades. It started one day when a woman named Henrietta Lacks went to a hospital to find out about a tumor that was growing on her. The doctors there took a tissue sample from this tumor and sent it off to be tested. What they found would potentially change the world forever.

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The problems started to arise a great deal of time after her dead, though. It would come about 25 years after, actually; when her family finally finds out about her cells; and how they are being used. The day that Henrietta’s cells were taken for testing, and what was found out about them; was the day that people today question. When the researches in the hospital tested her cells; they were astonished at what they had found. Henrietta Lacks had the first immortal cells.

Cells that could create a whole new generation in 24 hours. Cells that, if not controlled, could take over the world. Today, there is so many HeLa cells that you could wrap them around the earth 3 times; and they would weigh more than 50 million metric tons. Although; the story of HeLa cells is so controversial because of what her family knew. What they knew, was nothing. They were never informed about her cells; and their properties.

They never knew of the great accomplishments that came from the research of her cells. The vaccination for the polio disease, chemotherapy, the study of viral growth, of a cure for leukemia, and so many other things. But her family never knew. They never gave consent to the people who took her cells and shipped them around the world, tested on them, grew them, and created more things that would help in the world of medicine. So, what about this question of consent? I do believe that her family should have been told. I do believe that they should have known what had been going on.

That a part of their mother, friend, wife was, in a way, still living on. But, what would the family say if they were asked to be able to use Henrietta Lacks’, HeLa, cells. What if they didn’t give the doctors permission to test on them. What if they didn’t give consent to create other cures for diseases. What if they didn’t allow these cells, that could potentially save millions of lives, to not be tested on. This is the problem of consent.

Now, what about the question of if anything should have been due to Henrietta and her family because of the commercial use of her cells. Did they deserve to obtain any money from the use of HeLa cells? I do believe that they did, but this also ties in with the problem of consent. Without knowing, they could never ask for a part of the money coming from this research. If they made a deal at the beginning, if they were ever told; then yes they deserve money. Although, they found out about it 25 years after it all started, so do the deserve it? Even today they still do not receive money from the research.

These are the questions of HeLa cells. Of the moral and legal decisions that were made. The question of consent from the family, and the question if the family should gain money from the commercial value of these cells. Maybe it will never be resolved. Everyone has a different opinion, and this makes it so we may never know. HeLa cells might live on forever, so I guess we have forever to answer these controversial questions.