HeLa cells are an essential tool for various biomedical researches, which have significantly contributed to the development of science. The history of them has multiple ethical issues to discuss. Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman, who had vaginal bleeding, was treated in a segregated section of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only medical institution which offered its services to poor non-Europeans (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Her cells were collected for biopsy and became the only cells to survive in her gynecologist laboratory, Dr. George Gey (NPR). Consequently, this specimen was grown multiple times to prepare cells for biomedical investigations, including the development of the polio vaccine (NPR). Despite cells’ wide range of applications, neither Henrietta Lacks nor her family received benefits (Beskow 400). There are various moral circumstances for examination in this novel. The consent to collect the cells was not required at that time, and the family for long did not know about the fate of the exemplar. Moreover, the ethical issue of using human tissues in research was not considered. The ethics of racial discrimination is one more point for careful consideration as Henrietta Lacks faced severe violations of her human rights because of society’s ethical mindset.
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The original motif of taking the specimen of Henrietta Lacks was to study her cells for further medical treatment. Later, when it became evident that her cells were unique and could be used for research, the doctor’s intention did not to consider her interests (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Hence, according to the principles of a deontological theory, the action is unethical because the reason for the procedure did not recognize the rights of the subject. However, if the utilitarianism postulates are identified, then the exploit of using HeLa cells for vast biomedical investigations becomes the ethically acceptable measure. The consequences of implementing the human tissues for studying the effects of various drugs, physical impacts, and other influences brought incalculable benefits for humans around the world, saving many more lives (NPR). On the other hand, the family did not have access to primary care despite the benefits it brought to all people. The outcomes of the action have brought benefits for the majority, neglecting the needs of the direct subjects of it (Beskow 396). As a result, this story’s ethical significance shows the importance of informed consent and the legal procedures and measures for human tissue application.
After a long debate, the issue of informed consent and the right to have access to medical records was given to all patients. The usage of medical exemplars for research is also regulated under the legal standards (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Nowadays, the authors of the study have to provide ground justifications and experience strict standards for using human tissues for conducting research. Moreover, the hospitals had to reconsider their politics of refusing to treat non-Europeans or segregating the patients according to their racial characteristics (Beskow 410). The story of HeLa cells was a strong catalyst for abiding by these measurements (Beskow 403). It highlighted the importance of fundamental human rights, such as having a right to know about the fate of the specimens taken, access to medical information, and equal treatment. Today the ethical issues of the HeLa cells story and the measures taken for solving them are implemented around the world, although some countries still have the discriminative approaches.
Beskow, Laura. “Lessons from HeLa Cells: The Ethics and Policy of Biospecimens.” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, vol. 17, 2016, pp. 395-417.
“’Henrietta Lacks’: A Donor’s Immortal Legacy.” NPR, Web.
“The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Web.