The Lacks Family

In class the other day we discussed the HeLa cells and their medical contributions over the years. With these contributions came ethical issues. Henrietta Lacks never agreed to let the cells that were removed from her body be used for medical research. After she died, the cells remained alive for research and the family did not have a clue. Currently the cells are available for anyone, and as we saw in class we could purchase them online. I also read online that the full DNA sequence is public for anyone to see.


In an article on NBC News (, the National Institute of Health explains how the cells will be made more private. To fix ethically wrong behaviors, the cells will now only be made available to those who are approved. In addition to being approved, two members of Henrietta’s family will be on the board to approve what research and experiments the HeLa cells can be used in. Any research that uses the HeLa cells must also add an acknowledgement to the Lacks family.


Although the family will now have some say in when and where the cells are used, they are still not going to receive any financial compensation. In my opinion, the family should at least receive some financial benefit from the cells. The cells have been used for so many years and made billions of dollars. Even if the family began compensation now, ignoring all the past profit, they could still gain some financial profit from the HeLa cells. In Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the family was described as poor and financially unstable. This aid from the HeLa cells would help the family a lot. The family has understood and supported the use of the HeLa cells and for that they deserve to be treated properly. I do believe it is right to allow the family to have a say in the process and applications for using the cells. This creates a better ethical standing for the family, and they can have a say in where their relative’s cells go and what they are used for.


Although the family was unethically treated, I believe taking the cells from Henrietta Lacks and using them for research was a good decision. This research led to the cure of disease and many other medical advances. I believe that Henrietta Lacks would be happy to know that her misfortune allowed for other positive outcomes. Since the cells were cancerous, they had to be removed anyway. I honestly believe it is amazing that these negative cells could be used for something so positive, such as finding a cure and vaccine for Polio.


Today in medical practice, whenever someone is undergoing a medical procedure, they have to sign consent that once the hospital takes something from their body, the hospital has rights to use that body part for whatever they seem fit. I believe this is a wise move for hospitals to eliminate future ethical issues in medical research using parts of a patients body.



  1. I agree with your views. While the act of using her cells without her or her familiy’s consent was unethical, and they still aren’t receiving as much in compensation as either of us believes, I think that if I was Henrietta, I’d be overjoyed to know that my cells were a key component in many medical advancements.

  2. Great post I liked how you explained everything and researched before your post. I’m glad that the whole class is together on the fact that it was unethically handled to the means of the family. However the cells were to important for our species not to utilize this powerful tool. It is good to hear that the family at least got ethical justice so this problem would not happen again. However it’s sad to hear they never got any financial compensation, it would be nice to see a organization pay them at least a small benefit of the cells.

  3. While I agree with the vast majority of your premise, I kinda have to disagree with this point-

    “I do believe it is right to allow the family to have a say in the process and applications for using the cells”

    This inherently causes a problem. Whether it religious or moral objection, I believe that the needs of medical research should outweigh the opinions of the family.

    As to your closing paragraph on body parts, the research on embryonic stem cell has been bogged down because of this moral impasse.

    Great post!

  4. I agree with you that taking the cells and using them ended up working out for the better. However, I am still bothered that there is no compensation going towards the Lacks family after all these stories have been released. I understand that the laws weren’t in place at the time, but that doesn’t mean that things can’t change. The family deserves some financial restitution and they aren’t getting it. Although the cells help, it is just an unfair situation in which everyone really loses.

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