Lacks VS. Science
Not being much of an avid reader, there needs to be something to a book that draws me in. In this book, it was controversy. The way this book is written makes it easy to side with the Lacks family, and while I do have sympathy for them, I can't help but lean toward the side of the scientists.
Clearly, the grief of the Lacks family is expounded upon in the book, so there's no reason for me to reiterate it. Instead, I just want to raise a few points.
The first thing is that they are continually saying about how "Henrietta has contributed so much to science," and while the cells did come from Henrietta, the contribution really had nothing to do with anything she did. We all know that Henrietta didn't give consent for her cells to be used for research, which is something her family loves to complain about, and while their complaints may be valid, it can also be used against them. If Henrietta didn't give consent, that means that she played no conscious role in this critical research. She's not actually responsible for anything that was achieved. The only thing she did was be in the right place at the right time.
Secondly, the family has a sense of entitlement when it comes to the money that has been made off of Henrietta's cells. Now, personally if I were playing the role of one of the scientists and I had made a bunch of money off of this, I would give them money, or at least health care, because inevitably they are involved and they are hurting. However, that doesn't mean that they are entitled to anything. They haven't earned any of that money through hard work - all they did was be related to someone that the scientists made useful. If it wasn't for the scientists, Henrietta's cells would have just ended up as cancerous cervix cells six feet under, rotting and going to waste. They are not worth something because of anything that Henrietta or her family did, they are valuable because of the hard and consistent work of George Gey, whose original intention was to discover - not to make money. In short, it is only right to claim you deserve something if you work for it.
Lastly, this family is so angry and embittered toward white scientists because of the stories that they've heard. Granted, these stories are true, and it has affected them in that it makes them afraid of their own local hospital, Hopkins. But on the other hand, if you take a look at some of the most difficult offenses that they have endured, you'll find that they come from within their own community. For example, Ethel abused Henrietta's children after her death, or Deborah's cousin Galen would sexually abuse her. All of these things are terrible, and they are not inflicted by any white scientists, and yet it seems as though these scientists are blamed for all of their troubles.
Anyhow, my hope is that this doesn't come across as insensitive - I don't believe that these things entirely let the scientists off the hook. There are clearly things that they have done unethically, such as: not allowing the Lacks family a decent explanation, making promises to the family that they didn't keep, and treating Henrietta's cancer haphazardly (although it's not like she was paying for it. What else can be expected from free health care?), etc. There are so many opinions that this book provokes and it was a really interesting read.