Two Sides to Every Argument
As I was reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the questionable ethics of the doctors’ actions involving Henrietta’s cells repeatedly entered my mind. The family says that neither Henrietta nor they were ever notified about the plans for her cells and that the doctors did not have the right to take them in the first place. The doctors claim that they had informed both Henrietta and the family about their intention to use the cells. As Skloot writes the book, she researches the details of every event in relation to Henrietta’s cells and her family’s reactions to each new piece of information that they learn and these details supplement the arguments of both sides.
First, Henrietta’s family and friends believed the hospital and the doctors took advantage of them in order to keep Henrietta’s cells for their own personal gain. Henrietta’s friend visited her in the hospital a couple of times before she died and despite all of these visits she was never told anything about the cells. Due to doctor-patient confidentiality, it’s understandable that the doctors would not divulge to a friend of Henrietta the specifics of her case, but they are still allowed to tell a patient’s family what is happening if the patient is incapacitated. Still more pertinently, physicians are required to tell the patient herself. Yet, for some reason, the doctors never found it particularly pressing to tell Henrietta or her family, even after Henrietta had passed.
On the other hand, the doctors believed, and still do to this day, that they were following the protocol of the time and that they did what they deemed was best for medical and biological science. They had Henrietta sign a waiver saying that she gave the staff at John Hopkins consent to perform any surgical and operative procedures that they considered necessary. The doctors found it imperative to acquire some of the cells for further analysis, more than partially because they had an agreement with Gey to continuously supply him with cancerous cells. Also, I would guess that the doctors did not want to tell Day about the cells because he refused to permit them to perform an autopsy on Henrietta’s body upon their request. That refusal would have led them to believe that he would disallow the doctors to work with the cells in the future and then to fear the loss of potential progress that this would cause for science.
So, were the doctors in the wrong? Could it be said that they purposely took advantage of the Lacks family because they were not knowledgeable on the subject and were minorities in the community? Or were they really doing what they believed necessary to improve science and help save millions of lives?
That’s where I ask you to comment:
What do you think? Also, if you were in the doctors’ positions, what would you