HeLa Cells

While discussing HeLa cells in class there were mixed feelings on the ethical and scientific sides of the argument. Although progress is being made with great discoveries, we also have to think about the ethical portion of the cells since keeping the cells for never-ending research may be too much for the family. Since when the cells were first propagated from Henrietta Lacks, the family was not notified.

I agree that the beneficial discoveries made from the HeLa cells are worth the ethical boundaries which were crossed. HeLa cells are based off a cervical cancer cell, which held a immortal cell type which can’t die while the cells before the HeLa cell lasted only a few days. Her cells are stronger, tougher, with a faster multiplication rate. This lead every researcher and company wanting a piece of the cell strain to test it with a certain virus, bacteria, or any disease like polio. To me I agree her cells are one of the most important progressions toward a healthier species. Researchers have even sent it to space to see what would happen. The first American rocket carrying John Glenn was launched 1961 which carried the HeLa cells. These cells were found to replicate faster, grow stronger, and tougher. “In 1960, HeLa cells were sent into space in a soviet satellite prior to the flight of any astronaut. NASA later included HeLa cells in their first manned mission, and they discovered that cancer cells grow faster in space” (Kappel). I was not able to find much data about the cells in space however normally they grow faster, stronger, and tougher. Its almost exactly like the HeLa cells but all you need to do is be in space and bacteria for instance grows 300 times faster while growing stronger.

When dealing with HeLa cells it has to be noted at some level there was some ethical boundaries crossed. The family was never notified about these cells until years later when there were already patents being filed based off her cell. I feel the family deserves more than ethical justice, they should get some type of financial justice as they were never notified and the fact we still use them today. People still make money off these cells daily but at that time back when she died laws were very cloudy dealing with genetic justice. The fact its still popular today in labs and can easily be bought off the internet while seeing whose its coming from and everything about Henrietta Lacks It makes me think more about who really does own cells? Personally I believe its her DNA getting copied around so technically it would be ethical for her to get a share of the profits, or at least compensate the family for the unethical mass propagation of HeLa cells which were a anonymous cell for years until it was to late for justice. Even now, 2014 the family has never gotten any financial benefits from her cells only the ethical justice of changing the future of mass propagation of cells with notification from the host.


  1. http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/11s_final-12-13.pdf




  1. I feel genuinely bad for the family due to the fact that they were unaware of how her cells were used and that they were being used but I don’t think giving them money would really do anything to remedy the situation. Like it is difficult to build an analogy off of this but imagine if when you got your hair cut, the barber collected some of your hair to be sent to a lab and at that lab they discovered a cure for baldness or something. Okay, you provided the hair but committed none of the work. Now, maybe that goal would have been impossible without your hair, but you didn’t assign your hair monetary value (you were fine with letting it fall on the floor) until you knew you could make a buck off it. It seems more disingenuous to me to give her family money now because they played absolutely no role in the progress that humanity made, they just got upset when they knew they could make money selling their hair (metaphorically speaking).

  2. I think one of the most important things with anything science related is to make sure it is ethical first. It is not right to put science before human and animal rights. I think while listening to this story it was hard for me to get past the fact that the family was not originally notified about what we going on with the cells.

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