Problem of Medical Ethics: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


1. Introduction

a. Medical ethics cannot develop as quickly as science, and as the result it cannot adapt to progress. One of such ethical problems is raised in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot, 2011). The issue whether it is normal from moral and ethical sides to consider patients to be mere objects of treatment and thus use them for development of the medical science is raised in the current book.

b. Medical ethics is based on the principle of diversity, because it considers the interests of every individual.

c. It is the essential part of health care, because the medical progress is closely connected with ethical dilemmas.

3. This essay aims at analyzing the ethical side of taking the cells for further research without the permission of the patient. It makes such research a crime against the will of the patient, and results in the inhuman treatment. The emphasis in the patent care shifts from treating the patient to the scientific research of the problem, and people are neglected. The clinical decision-making becomes inefficient in this case.

4. The deferential attitude toward doctors in the early 20th century resulted in the absence of communication between Henrietta Lacks, her family and Johns Hopkins. The doctor was considered to be the only person who had the right to know the treatment plan, while the patient did not question the authority of the intelligent medical personnel.

a. The attitude towards health care providers obviously changed, because the medicine became more patient-centered, and the value of human life became the priority. Socioeconomic differences of the patients do not affect clinician-patient relationships today, as it used to be in the times of Henrietta Lacks. The medical personnel who was working with the HeLa cells on the cancer problem made more cruel and ethically impermissible experiments. One of such experiments was the investigation into the ways in which the organisms of people react to the injection of the HeLa cells (Skloot, 2011, p. 38).

5. The science has researched the HeLa cells and made the step towards treatment of cancer.

a. The desire of the researchers to progress was one of the key issues in the scientific progress, even though it often violated the basic human rights.

b. The story of Henrietta raises the question of medical ethics publicly. When the book was published, it was still not completely clear if the usage of the biological material was illegal in case the scientists did not have written permission from the patient (Skloot, 2011, pp. 46-47).

6. Nowadays it is impossible to make something with the body of a patient without his/her consent, which guarantees that patients are protected from inhuman experiments. Diverse populations also have an access to equal medicine.

a. Further discussion of the experiments on living people without their permission shows the attitude to ethical problem that exists in the medical science.

b. There is still much work to be done in this field, but even now the law protects patients.

c. Patient-clinician interactions became more open and patient-centered.

7. I have read much about problems in medicine before this book, because the history of America has a long period of inequality and injustice.

8. Nowadays clinicians and researchers understand that everything is done for the sake of patients, not abstract ideas.

9. This story is relevant to nursing education, administration and practice because it shows the horrible results that happen when ethics is neglected.

10. Conclusion

All these ideas and events show that one of the major ethical ideas of the Western world is perverted. No one has the right to dispose the life and the health of another person without his/her consent. The case of Henrietta Lacks shows that it is crucial to remember that even though the medical progress is important, the value of human life is the priority. This idea should be the slogan of my future professional experience.


Scloot, R. (2011). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books.

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