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Bioethical Opinion Essay

March 13, 2018

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1
    Many people over the years have heard the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who, during treatment for cervical cancer in 1951, had cancer cells removed that later become known as the first immortalized cell line, called HeLa. The moral and ethical repercussions of this have continued to, for decades, become highly controversial issues about privacy, consent, and compensation.
    I consider the use of human tissue for medical research to be vital, and I would never stop it. It allows us to study different diseases and treatments in a much more focused and specific way to how our bodies work than if we used something else. The tissue can also (like HeLa) become immortalized, and so keep that knowledge of the past with us, and allows us to do so many different things.
    However, that is not what has been most controversial. That has been the right for patients to consent to have their tissue taken and used for scientific purposes. In the example of Lacks, she did not give permission, and neither her or her family were notified about it until 1975, nearly a quarter of a century after the doctors first harvested them. My opinion is that tissue samples should not need consent from the patient to be taken unless the procedure could cause medical issues in the patient. Forcing doctors to obtain permission from patients even when it wouldn't affect them could create unnecessary red tape and hinder significant scientific progress immensely.
    Another issue has also been brought up, which is compensation for tissue donors. Looking at the law specifically, there is nothing that forces patients to get compensation should their cells be essential or vital, because people's removed cells do not legally count as their property. However, I believe that it is a patient's right, should their cells become commercialized, like HeLa's, they or their family should receive money or some form of compensation because part of their body is primarily being sold to anyone. I looked online, and I could buy HeLa cells right now, from ten different stores. It doesn't seem right to me that a family, who according to their website couldn't pay medical bills and lived in poverty, watched their relative's cells get sold all over the world for hundreds of dollars.
    The last of the main issues is patient medical and genetic privacy. This has always been one of the most controversial things about the entire case. Detailed facts about Lacks were spread around the world because of her cells, and in the 1980s, the whole family's medical records were published without consent. In March of 2013, not long ago, researchers released the DNA sequence of the genome of a strain of HeLa cells. The family didn't even know about this until the author Rebecca Skloot informed them. I believe that unless the information released is general and keeping privacy in mind; the family should at least have some control over what is shared with the public and other scientists and researchers.
    I have no doubt that these issues will continue being controversial and often spoken about, especially in this time when medical progress, like cloning or building new organs, are becoming commercialized and available to the public. There are many valid arguments for all sides, and it will be difficult to find out where we land.

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