Discriminatory Practices Against African Americans in Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Rebecca Skloot’s book is relevant in terms of current challenges in the delivery of health care in the United States because even though minorities such as African Americans are not racially divided as we once were we still deal with a disparity in health care. For example, when Henrietta Lacks finally decided to get her uterus pain checked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, instead of ordering her necessary imaging they attested her pain to untreated gonorrhea and her current pregnancy. Once her complaints were taken seriously she was finally diagnosed with cervical cancer. (Skloot, Rebecca. (2010) It has been confirmed scenarios such as this still occur today and have reported that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to get “low value” health care and receive fewer effective preventative services such as cancer screenings ( AJMC. (2019). Withholding information is also an issue that still resents itself today. Henrietta was told after her first round of treatment that she was no longer fertile and made it known that if she was made aware prior, she would have not gone through with the treatment. Withholding medical information from patients without their awareness or consent is unethical, to say the least. Studies have shown this has not improved and that ethnic minorities across the county report less respectful treatment and less encouragement to make decisions for their treatment plans due to racial biases which can directly affect the trust level minorities have in their physicians (Morris, 2014). Historically African Americans have been seen as property or test subjects rather than actual human beings. Rebecca Skloot expresses this by not only giving a great animation of Henrietta’s life but briefly goes into detail about the Tuskegee Syphilis project. During this project over 600 men were injected with syphilis without their knowledge in exchange for free health care. This was also evident when Dr. Gey’s assistant Mary almost fainted at the sight of Henrietta’s chipped nail polish because this is when she realized Henrietta was an actual person and not just a subject (Skloot, Rebecca. (2010). Lack of compassion still exists to this day based on racial biased in health care. During Dr. Cooper’s trial it was more common for newly hired residents to quickly come up with negative emotions or feelings when seeing a brown face versus seeing a white face or for someone to associate a young African American man with drug dealing and “The Wire” than it was to assume they had a more positive lifestyle. (Morris, 2014)

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I believe to effectively address discriminatory practices one would first have to admit they are present. A lot of people have a mindset that racism does not exist based on the laws in our country but that is simply not true. Data from prior surveys indicate that a majority of adults were simply unaware of gaps in health care between African Americans and their white counterparts (Williams, D. R., & Cooper, L. A. 2019 ). Once the issue has been identified and implicit biased detected it opens up an opportunity for physician training. This training can include racial prejudice reducing strategies, stereotype replacement and allows a chance for increased interracial contact. Another way to effectively address discriminatory practices is to employ physicians that are a representation of their community by creating a diverse work environment. A number of studies show that underrepresented minority clinical providers are more likely to treat minority patients and tend to have a strengthened cultural competency resulting in higher patient satisfaction ( (2019). Significant research also indicates that when a patient is treated by a physician of the same race there is an improved patient-provider communication and overall health outcomes, as well as higher levels of patient adherence.

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