The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Ethical Issues

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The writers of the article ‘Global health 101 Third edition’, presents the ethical issues that are substantially presented in the research to benefit the global society. It is focused on the procedures and the extent of how researches exceed the bearing for the test subjects. In order for our society to grow with advanced medical supplies, there are many research test on human subjects. The authors indicate that insufficient research into ethical research has not been conducted.

 In fact, there are many arguments whether human research is violating human rights but others see it as the advancement for the next generation. For example, in the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” ethical issues summarizes a story of Henrietta and how her HeLa cell development has the potential to cure many harsh diseases. From the research of human cells, our society was granted the cure for many diseases without any remorse. Although pushing the volunteers to a great extent, researchers ensured to disclose all research information and guarantee the safety for each participant to clearly comprehend what the research is all about before giving their consent. By the Nuremberg code, the declaration of Helsinki, and the Belmont Report all provide ethical principles that are used to evaluate research protocols and making sure that our human rights are not overlooked upon. A human test research is ethically justified only if it is socially beneficial, as in generating new knowledge that has the capability of helping others. Before scientist use human tested subjects, they must abide by the Belmont Report. The “Belmont Report” provides the ethical foundation for federal regulations. Providing a concise and informative description of the issues researchers need to consider when they are working with human subjects. 

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Scientific research has produced substantial social benefits but also posed numerous amount of troubling ethical questions. Based on the three basic principles of the Belmont Report, all research based on human subjects must have respect for the person, must be beneficence, and also serve justice. All volunteers must be treated as individuals as autonomous people. As well as being protected with diminishing antonym. Every research must have benefits whether its in advancement or progress for the cure. And finally, each experiment must be distributed fairly. These principles are the key protections for our human rights. As the authors from ‘Global health 101 Third edition’ quotes, “...they must respect participants’ rights to withdraw from research protect their confidentiality, and so on.”

 To secure the human rights code, researchers must respect the participant's decisions and evaluate the position that they’re going through. In addition, public attention was drawn to these questions by reported abuses of human subjects in biomedical experiments, especially during World War II. During the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, the Nuremberg code was drafted as a set of standards for judging physicians and scientists who hadconducted biomedical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. This code was to assure that research involving human subjects would be carried out in an ethical manner. (Henrietta stories and how it relates to justification and violation of human rights)

The author of the book The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, documented the insight story behind Henrietta Lacks of how her family’s human rights were violated by scientists. During the year of 1951, a global sensation was discovered by an African American woman whose cancer cells were harvested and used to create an immortal cell line for scientific experiments. The Lack family were treated very poorly and didn’t receive any gratitude from the society of researchers, which violates the code of human rights. As Skloot states, “Ebony quoted Henrietta’s husband saying, “All I remember is that she had this disease, and right after she died they called me in the office wanting to get my permission to take a sample of some kind. I decided not to let them.” Jet said the family was angry—angry that Henrietta’s cells were being sold for twenty-five dollars a vial, and angry that articles had been published about the cells without their knowledge.” The Lacks family was treated very poorly by both the media and the scientific community. 

Due to these circumstances, they were very hostile when speaking of their mother's name to researchers and interviewers. This had all started, from a tissue sample that was untold about. Gey the scientist didn’t inform the Lacks, as he grew with fame for discovering the greatest breakthrough in medical history. A cure that treated many diseases and did the unthinkable. Henrietta’s cells were able to infinitely multiply and never died out as long as freeze the sample. Breaking the code violation of the basic principles of the Belmont Report, the society wasn’t able to help the family but support the discovery. HeLa cells were sold worldwide, benefiting global society. Unfortunately, the Lacks family did not mention in the discovery. Gey and his lab profited off these cells as the Lacks suffered through many stages, as well as not being able to afford to see a doctor. Ultimately, Skloot and other sympathetic researchers were able to clear some of the questions for the Lacks family and her contribution to science over the last six decades. In conclusion, Henrietta's cells ensured that the rest of the world will be able to be healthier and impacted the world of scientific research.



  1. Skloot, Rebecca The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Picador, 2018.
  2. Skolnik, R. Global health 101. 2015, 3rd edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.


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