The Ups and Downs of Scientific Progress
If you were asked what the goal of science and research is, you would most likely respond that they exist for the benefit of the human population. However, this is not, and was not always the case. Taking a closer look at the history of science, particularly from the 1950s on, revels that things have not always been all well and good. It cannot be denied that the world of modern science is an ever-evolving realm that has experienced significant change over the past century, but just what has it evolved from? The answer to that question lies partly in the pages of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a nonfiction account of her experiences with the Lacks family.
Skloot learns firsthand about the medical research world of Henrietta’s time and how it affected her family in the years following. Over the course of the years since the 1950s, science, especially with regards to medical research, has progressed towards a reformed, more regulated entity. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks provides several examples of how science has adopted more protocols, considering the ethics of their experimentation and the rights of those who are subject to research. Having been exposed to the unsettling and unethical practices detailed in Immortal Life, it becomes very clear to the reader that ethics were not held in high regard in the history of science. This is due in part to the fact that no established universal ethical norms existed in the 1950s for research done on human subjects. The book offers countless examples of this lack of ethics, but perhaps the one that stands out the most is the 1954 study of Henrietta’s cancer cells carried out on 150 inmates by Chester Southam (Skloot 127-129). These inmates were not fully informed that the cells were cancerous, and thus were wrongly taken advantage of for the sake of science. The need for change in this respect has been noticed, and progress has been made in more...
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