Reading “the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was a fascinating experience. I have two sisters in the medical field, and I am the oddball of the family studying social sciences. I asked them what they knew about HeLa cells and sure enough they knew nothing of Henrietta. The biases, racism, lack of communication and so many other unethical actions made me think about the type of counselor I want to be. I never want anyone I am supposed to be helping to feel the way Henrietta or her family felt.
I was appalled when I read about the segregated hospitals and what that actually meant for the patients of the time period. Within the book they inform the reader that a person who was black would be turned away from an all-white hospital even if it meant that the individual would die in the parking lot. I have always known about segregation but had never heard that extreme about hospitals. This meant that white people would let a black person die just because of the color of their skin. Reading this broke my heart for humanity and all of the people who had been let down by the racism of this time period.
It was painful to read about how poorly Henrietta was treated. She was given little to no information about her condition and was blatantly ignored and neglected by the people entrusted to help her. I kept thinking how awful it was that she had no one genuinely helping her through this difficult time. This book reassured me that I was in the right field. I vowed to myself that I would be the counselor who is a warrior for their clients. I want them to feel comfortable asking me anything without the fear of being misled or shut down. It is easy for someone who has a comprehensive idea about what is going on to forget that everything can be completely new to somebody else. I want to take my time to make sure that my client is fully understanding the situation.
The amount of ethical violations within this book was shocking. I found myself with a jaw dropped open on more than one occasion. There was no informed consent, no transparency between the doctors and patients and nobody seemed to have the patient’s wellbeing in mind. The doctors took pieces from Henrietta’s body without her permission and without the intentions of helping her. I was furious when they removed healthy cervix cells as well as the cancerous ones. She was being used for science without any acknowledgment of her as a living human. The three main concerns for an ethical study are respect for persons, beneficence and justice. I read about all of these ethical aspects being violated.
Respect for persons says that an individual has the right to fully exercise their own autonomy. This means that Henrietta should have had the right to make her own choices. The respect for Henrietta was taken away when she was not asked if the doctors could use her cells for research. Despite the fact that these cells turned out to have many incredible outcomes, they should never have been taken from her body...