BIOETHICS & INFORMED CONSENT
In February1951, Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to have doctors examine an aggressive form of cervical cancer. During her examination, Henrietta’s cancerous tissue was harvested and sent to researchers. At the time this was a common practice in the medical field. Many doctors in the 1950s believed that patients from the public ward could be used for research, without their knowledge, because they were being treated for free. Since then the field of bioethics has been established, requiring obtaining informed consent from human research subjects.
Want to find out more about the issues surrounding bioethics and informed consent? Take a look at the links bellow
In the 1950s segregation was commonplace. Like most of the United States, Baltimore was divided into two groups: those who were white, and those who weren’t. It was understood that those who were not white did not question the judgment of those who were. Early in the novel Skloot informs us that Henrietta had to travel “nearly twenty miles to get to Hopkins, not because she preferred it, but because it was the only major hospital for miles that treated black patients. This was the era of Jim Crow—when black people showed up at white-only hospitals, the staff was likely to send them away, even if it meant they might die in the parking lot.”
This brings a very important question to light; how would Henrietta’s treatment have differed if she was white? Would her cells have taken without her consent? Would her claims of pain have been taken seriously? There is no foolproof way to answer these questions. According to Howard Jones, Henrietta’s treatment was the same as any white patient’s. The biopsy, radium treatments, and radiation were standard for any cancer patient. However, research shows that black patients were treated and hospitalized much later in their illness and received fewer pain medications.
LAW AND ORDER
Love a good murder mystery? Law & Order's "Immortal" (Season 20, Episode 21) episode has a plot that is loosely based on Henrietta Lacks life. In this episode, a healthy black man, Jerome Turner, turns up dead in a hospital. When his son Jaden tells the investigating detectives a man swabbed his mouth on the day of the murder, they recognized it as a DNA test. The investigating detectives learn that Jerome is the grandson of Nathan Robinson. Nathan died in 1959, but his cells, known as NaRO, were the first to survive in culture. These cells are sold to research centers without Nathan Robinson's consent. Check out a quick preview at Amazon.