Henrietta Lacks

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Do The Ends Ever Justify The Means?

In her novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, author Rebecca Skloot addresses the many variations of ethics by telling the readers about the life of a poor African American Southern tobacco worker living in a time where racism was apparent. In 1951, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 30 and reseachers had taken her cells without her permission. The major concern that arises in the novel in my opinion is the lack of informed consent and knowledge given to Henrietta before and her family afterwards. Regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status, doctors and researchers have a moral obligation to inform their patients thoroughly, provide them with side-effects that may occur, and to communicate properly with the family in case of death. While these and some other issues are merely portrayls, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks provides a narrative field within which these issues can be observed by reflecting on the experiences of many different individuals.

According to one source, informed consent is defined as “a patient's consent to a medical procedure must be "informed.” A patient gives an "informed consent" only after the [insert type of medical practitioner] has fully explained the proposed treatment or procedure.” (Web) The history of informed consent could be said to have derived from the Nuremberg Code, established in 1947, which was stated in the novel as, “a ten-point code of ethics... which was to govern all human experimentation worldwide.” (Skloot 131) This code was created after Nazi doctors used Jewish prisoners for medical research, without their consent. Informed consent is a legal doctrine developed by the courts and has been adapted throughout the years, but when Henrietta was diagnosed at Johns Hopkins with cervical cancer, this was not the case. To properly 'inform' one must make known and clear. Lacks gave consent but it was not communicated to her....
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