Part A – Contemporary Ethics
Christoph Lengauer’s analogy of treating cells like oil is a powerful metaphor for how we should treat cells within and outside the living body. However, there are significant limitations to this analogy. Personally, I disagree with the analogy to an extent, as oil is a mineral that, when found underneath the land surface, has to be given on lease, or the owner sells its rights to the governmental bodies to make profits. However, human cells should not be treated like a commodity because they cannot be sold, and nobody can have their rights other than the person himself/herself. His analogy raises some ethical questions in healthcare as the care practice aims to protect patients from needless suffering and exploitation, whereas anybody can exploit the land that has oil underneath its surface for research or personal benefits. Although I vehemently disagree with the analogy, I agree that the Lacks family should have been informed of what Henrietta Lack’s cells were being used for. It is disgusting how the family did not know how Henrietta’s cells were taken and used for research purposes without the family’s consent. In my opinion, it is unacceptable to do research on living beings or use their cells without their consent, as oil is a commodity, and we are “living” beings. Thus, the analogy is not right in this regard, as his views are the mere exploitation of living beings’ rights because the valuable cells cannot be sold in the open market like oil reserves.
Part B – Qualitative Oversight
The first point from “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Henrietta Lacks” that intrigued me the most is “if it had not been for Henrietta, medical science would have been set back at least thirty years” (Lantos, 2016). I believe that this statement is true because the cells derived from HeLa were able to be used in a variety of medical applications and contributed to the advancement of medical research in ways that could not have been achieved without the use of the HeLa cells. However, it is disgusting to the core how the Lacks family was unaware of this, and researchers used the HeLa cells without the Lacks family’s consent (Gold, 1986).
The second point that is interesting for me is how the author, John D. Lantos, paints a disturbing picture of the pharmaceutical industry’s exploitation of the black market engagingly through the “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Henrietta Lacks” narrative. The author shows how Lacks’ cells were taken without her consent and used for medical research without her knowledge (Allen et al., n.d.). In my opinion, the author has used this powerful piece to show the importance of informed consent in scientific research, as well as the negative impact that this unethical practice can have on the lives of patients. From a contemporary perspective, care practice is meant to provide quality care and safe patient outcomes for the unhealthy population of the world where no one’s privacy should be manipulated. Therefore, no organization or researcher should be allowed to conduct experiments on “living beings” without consent, whether it is Henrietta in the 1960s or any individual in 2023.
Allen, T., O’Donnell, A., & Taft, K. (n.d.). How are gender, race, and other human rights issues exemplified in the case of Henrietta Lacks? Gender in Science & Technology, 44.
Gold, M. (1986). A Conspiracy of Cells: One woman’s immortal legacy-and the medical scandal it caused. SuNY press.
Lantos, J. D. (2016). Thirteen Ways of Looking at Henrietta Lacks. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 59(2), 228–233.