Who is Henrietta Lacks?

We Need To Stop The Abuse Against Henrietta Lacks, Whose Body Continues To Be Violated In The Name Of Science

The mother of modern medicine.

346
views

Without a doubt, Henrietta Lacks is the most important figure in modern medicine. You may not have heard of her by name, but if you've heard of the polio vaccine, the human genome project, cloning, or in vitro fertilization, then you have already had a brief introduction.

Scientists refer to her as HeLa, and in 1951 she was a poor tobacco farmer and young mother of five who visited Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the very few hospitals treating African Americans at the time, complaining of vaginal bleeding. Dr. Howard Jones discovered that Lacks had an aggressive tumor on her cervix and biopsied her cervical cells. The samples were sent to Dr. George Gey, who had been collecting cells from cervical cancer patients for years.

Lacks died within a year of her diagnosis, but her cells lived on in Dr. Gey's lab without her or her family's knowledge. Dr. Gey had discovered that Lacks' cells were unique. Where other cells died rather quickly after being removed from the body, Lacks' doubled every 20-24 hours.

Her cells would later be sold, and today there are over 17,000 patients using HeLa cells. Her cells are used to test toxins and cancer treatments among other things, and theoretically make billions of dollars a year. The crazy thing is, not a single penny goes to Lacks' estate or her family.

According to Johns Hopkins, there was no concent protocol in 1951 when Lacks' tissue and cells were taken, and so no ethical line was crossed in how they continued to use her cells, even after her death. They also claim that though her cells were sold, they do not own her cells because cells cannot be legally patented. Rather ownership of sold cells lies with the individuals/corporations that purchase her cells on the open market.

Johns Hopkins also denies profiting from the cells, though her cells have been reproduced billions of times in the name of research and have garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development. While corporations have profited hugely from HeLa, the Lacks' family has received no compensation.

If that isn't sickening enough, in 2013, German scientists published a paper announcing they had sequenced the entire genome of a HeLa cell. And while HIPPA doesn't allow medical professionals to release personal or sensitive information about patients, even after they have died, these scientists were able to put Lack's DNA sequence on display without her consent.

As it usually goes, the scientists later removed full details of the Lacks genome as well as issued an apology to the Lacks family...after backlash. At the same time, the scientists as EMBL argued that the genome they sequenced could not be used to make any sensitive medical conclusions about Lacks or her living family members, whose DNA was partly on display as well.

Later that year, the National Insitute of Health announced that two members of the Lacks family would sit on the board that reviews applications for the HeLa genome data, the agreement, of course, did not include compensation.

Lacks' oldest son, Lawrence, who is now 85, and two grandsons are fighting to regain control of their mother, and grandmother's cells and legacy. Lawrence Lacks didn't know until years after his mothers' death that she was still living on in test tubes around the world (and in outer space.) He and members of his family feel violated, and rightfully so as his mother's body will continue to be abused in the name of science.

The abuse of black people in the name of science isn't new. We know about gynecologist J. Marion Sims and his surgeries of enslaved African women--without anesthesia, scientists feeding sulfuric acid to "negro prisoners" to test its effect, and the Tuskegee experiments. The troubling story of Henrietta Lacks is another to add to the pile, but what makes her different, is that it is allowed to happen in 2019---a "post-racial," but obviously not moral, society.

Popular Right Now

50 Things To Be Happy About

It's the little things in life.
19006
views

It is always easier to pick out the negatives in life. We tend to dwell on them and drown out the happy moments. I asked a friend to tell me something that made them happy. They sarcastically laughed at my question then thought about it for a minute. Nothing. But they could easily come up with things that made them unhappy. Then I read them my list, and they were smiling and laughing in agreement the whole time. There are so many more things to be happy and laugh about than we realize. After all- it's the little things in life that can mean the most! Here are 50 things that make me happy. What are your 50?

  1. The first warm day of the year
  2. Laughing so hard your abs ache
  3. Freshly washed sheets
  4. Looking through old pictures
  5. The smell of a coffee shop
  6. Eating cookie dough
  7. Reading a bible verse that perfectly fits your current situation
  8. Seeing someone open a gift you got them
  9. Eating birthday cake
  10. A shower after a long day
  11. Marking something off your to-do list
  12. Drinking ice cold water on a really hot day
  13. Dressing up for no reason
  14. Breakfast food
  15. Being able to lay in bed in the morning
  16. Finding something you love at the store
  17. And it’s on sale
  18. Cute elderly couples
  19. When a stranger compliments you
  20. Getting butterflies in your stomach
  21. Taking a nap
  22. Cooking something delicious
  23. Being lost for words
  24. Receiving a birthday card in the mail
  25. And there's money in it
  26. Finally cleaning your room
  27. Realizing how fortunate you are
  28. Waking up from a nightmare and realizing it wasn't real
  29. Fresh fruit
  30. Walking barefoot in the grass
  31. Singing along to a song in the car
  32. Sunrises
  33. Sunsets
  34. Freshly baked cookies with a glass of milk
  35. Summertime cookouts
  36. Feeling pretty
  37. Looking forward to something
  38. Lemonade
  39. Comfortable silences
  40. Waking up in the middle of the night and realizing you have more time to sleep
  41. Surviving another school year
  42. The cold side of the pillow
  43. The smell of popcorn
  44. Remembering something funny that happened
  45. Laughing to yourself about it
  46. Feeling weird about laughing to yourself
  47. Printed photographs
  48. Wearing a new outfit
  49. The sound of an ice cream truck
  50. Feeling confident
Cover Image Credit: Tumblr

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

My Eating Disorder Was A Secret, Even From Me

No one ever talks about it, and if they had my life might be different.

59
views

I remember ninth grade health class very well, specifically one day in particular. The day we talked about eating disorders, I was ready to hear about anorexia and bulimia. I was not ready to walk out of that classroom with confirmation that I had an eating disorder, but that is exactly what I did that day.

After speaking on anorexia and bulimia, my teacher told us about Binge Eating Disorder.

My 14-year-old ears perked up. I had never heard of this disease, but I was immediately interested. I knew anorexia and bulimia well, they were the diseases that, at the time, I wish I had the determination to try, but I was too scared to hurt my body.

Binge Eating Disorder was new to me. My teacher described it as continuing to eat after you were full and eating for hours at a time. As the signs and symptoms continued to be read, I realized... that the last three years of my life had been plagued by binges. There was a lot I couldn't control in my life, but eating was one thing that I always had control over. It was the one thing that always brought me comfort.

Most binges would start after I came home from a hard day at school, or maybe after I got in a fight with a family member. Maybe I felt insecure about the growing number on the scale, but I ate.

It always started with half a bag of chips, then maybe a cookie or other sweet treat, and then I would finish with something else I could find in the pantry. My mother would come home and begin making dinner.

Ashamed, I would hide the food anywhere so my family could not tell I had been eating and then I would go eat dinner.

This was a common occurrence for me, but I had no idea that my habits were wrong or should point to an eating disorder. The only thing that I knew was wrong with me, was that I was gaining weight.

For the longest time, I thought an eating disorder was something that helped you lose weight unhealthily, not gain weight. It wasn't until I sat in a health class that I realized that there was anything wrong with me.

Education is so important in overcoming eating disorders. We are making such great strides about informing people about the dangers of eating disorders and positive body image.

It is so important that we start making Binge Eating Disorder a topic that is as known as anorexia and bulimia. No one ever discusses Binge Eating Disorder, not even the dangers of it, maybe if they had my life might have been different.

Maybe I would have found out about it earlier and could have gotten help before it got out of hand.

I wish I could say that I left that health class that day and never had a binge again. The truth is I binged several times after that, and still to this day I have an episode, although they are very rare.

It would be unrealistic to tell you that I overcame my eating disorder that day because it is a journey I am still completing. Every day presents a new challenge, and sometimes I fail, but I will succeed, and succeeding is worth a few failures.

Related Content

Facebook Comments