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Henrietta Lacks Should Not Be Compensated For The Use Of Her Cells In Medical Research

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Autor:   •  April 28, 2011  •  1,518 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,568 Views

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Henrietta Lacks Should Not Be Compensated For The Use Of Her Cells In Medical Research.

The discovery of HeLa cells has been touted as one of the biggest achievements in medical history as it has helped discover the medicines for Polio, Parkinson's disease, and it has been used extensively for the research on cancer treatments (Ramsey, 2010). One would expect that the person who contributed the cells has been rightfully compensated and deservedly acknowledged. However, such was not the case for Henrietta Lacks. Even though the HeLa cell lines were initially physically hers, she was not compensated or recognized for her contributions (Skloot, 2010). In fact her cells were taken uninformed to her and it is argued that she should have been reimbursed for the use of her cells in medical research. Nevertheless, Henrietta Lacks should not be financially compensated because the medical discoveries achieved through the utilization of her cells are researchers' intellectual property, there was no contract requiring her to be compensated, and the cells were taken for the research on cancer which was the disease that she had.

The medical breakthroughs from the utilization of Henrietta's cells are primarily from the efforts of the researchers themselves. This means, the financial gains acquired from the utilization of her cells are primarily because of the results from researches conducted on them, rather than the physical entity of her cells itself. In cases involving patents for medical breakthroughs, the rights to ownership of the patents fall primarily on researchers because the discoveries are done through the exercise of the researchers' intellect (Connor, 2005). In other words, because the researchers themselves make a comprehensive educated effort in the scientific process of finding a conclusion, the credits should fall primarily on the researchers, regardless of the resources they use, because the discoveries are considered their intellectual property. For example, George Gey, the researcher who made the discovery, was among one of the many researchers aiming to achieve the first successful tissue culture and he failed many times before discovering HeLa cells (Masters, 2002). Obviously, Gey was the one who made more effort compared to Lacks who merely provided her cells for medical research. If Gey were to give up after one of his failures or if he were too lazy to take advantage of his intelligence to conduct research, then we might not be able to reap the benefits gained from his research today. Furthermore, the cells that were removed were cancerous cells that had to be removed and would have been discarded if it were not used for medical research (Connor, 2005, p.733). Instead of wasting the cells, the researchers utilize whatever resources that are readily available to them further conduct research for medical advancement. This situation showcase that the researchers used every outlet possible to do research for medical advancement.

There was also no contract that Henrietta signed that required her to be reimbursed for her participation in the research. If there were no contract between Lacks and John Hopkins Hospital, then there's no possibility of breach of contract. This is proven by the fact that there were no records saying that Henrietta agreed to give her cells away for medical research (Masters, 2005). This means that Lacks were not promised reimbursement for her participation in the research. John Hopkins Hospital also did not patent HeLa cells and they did not make money out of her cells (hopkinsmedicine, 2010). Pharmaceutical and other biomedical companies use the knowledge gained by the discoveries made by the researchers at the hospital to further improvise the knowledge and make money out of their own discoveries. This fact further distances the effect of the physical entity of Lacks' cells towards medical advancement. This also means that John Hopkins Hospital is in no place to reward Lacks' family monetary benefits. If anything, the mere fact that Lacks were in the hospital at the first place was a reimbursement by itself as there were no other hospitals in close proximity to where she lives that would admit black patients during that time where blacks were still heavily discriminated(Sharpe, 2010). So, there should be a mutual understanding that they were helping each other. Lacks should be grateful enough and she shouldn't have to be compensated for the use of her cells even if there is a contract saying that she should be compensated because she was given treatment when no one else would and when she was in a dire need of it.

Henrietta Lacks' cells are used for the research on the disease that she had and her cells might not even be unique. It would be unfair on Lacks' part if the cells taken from her are not used for her own benefits especially since she did not


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