Critique of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

While reading the book about Henrietta Lacks and her famous HeLa cells, a few issues came to mind. The first is definitely informed consent and the issues surrounding the medical work with the cells. The second issue that I thought about was Henrietta’s struggle as well as her family’s continuing struggle while she was ill and for years after her death. I am also intrigued about the story behind a white woman making the information about HeLa so well known and how recognition of the cells and their importance is conveyed. The issues regarding informed consent, I believe, is the most important part of this book. If Henrietta and her family had truly been informed and understood what was going to be done, there would be no story to tell. Henrietta was given a consent to sign at the admissions desk when she checked in to Johns Hopkins. It was upon check in that the receptionist had her sign the consent which read, “I hereby give the consent to the staff at 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 of:______ (31).”
Not only did Henrietta sign this consent without knowing what would happen next, a witness that had illegible handwriting signed the consent also. I know that medical science has advanced since Henrietta’s procedure was performed but I feel that she should have at least been informed about what specific procedures were going to take place. The consent she signed didn’t mention anything about removal of tissue, especially healthy tissue. Being a healthcare professional, I find this extremely disturbing. Today’s consents are very specific about what procedures will take place. The patient is informed about their procedure by a nurse, an anesthesiologist, and a surgeon before being put...
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