Henrietta Lacks and the Tissue Rights Crisis

For many in the medical community the story of Henrietta Lacks, the progenitor of the HeLa cell, had been little known, until the publication of Rebecca Skloot’s book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Written in 2010, Skloot takes us through the life and times of Henrietta whose extraordinary cancer cells changed history.

Henrietta Lacks, 1945

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.” – excerpt from http://rebeccaskloot.com/the-immortal-life/.

Do you work with human cells? Do you know where they come from? Were they derived with consent or just taken from the patient? Did you know that doctors can use your tissue samples without your consent? Did you know the cells you use in research could be contaminated?

To understand more and see what else is being discussed checkout the Library’s copy of the book.

a. one HeLa cell dividing into two, b. and c. HeLa cells stained with special fluorescent dyes

For those of you too busy to read the book, HBO produced a movie based on the book.

See: http://rebeccaskloot.com/the-immortal-life/the-movie/ for clips and discussions with the Lacks family.

Check out this clip from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: The Lacks Family Legacy (HBO):


Further readings on this topic:

Body and soul: the Black Panther Party and the fight against medical discrimination

Human subjects research after the Holocaust

Skeletons in the closet: indignities and injustices in medicine

The vaccine race: science, politics, and the human costs of defeating disease

The stored tissue issue: biomedical research, ethics, and law in the era of genomic medicine

Thousands of studies used the wrong cells, and journals are doing nothing