The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Essay
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In the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks written by Rebecca Skloot, Skloot is a young white woman that becomes fascinated by Henrietta Lacks when she learns of her in a community college biology class. Henrietta Lacks was a young black woman who was never spoken of. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of thirty. When she received treatment for that cancer doctors unknowingly stole her cervical cells. These cells were named HeLa. In Skloots book she states, “Scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive in culture for decades, but they all eventually died.
Henrietta’s were different: they reproduced an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory (4). ” During the 1950s when Henrietta was being treated, patients were expected to trust their doctors. Patients were not supposed to ask questions, so Henrietta had no relationship with her doctors. I feel communication is essential for every patient because they need to be informed.
Communication I believe is one of the most valuable qualities of a doctor-patient relationship.
With communication doctors can answer questions that patients have. They can inform and educate patients about their illnesses, treatment options and course of care. Doctors can also involve patients in decisions concerning their medical conditions. Without communication the doctor-patient relationship ceases to exist. Just the same as Henrietta Lacks doctor-patient relationship did. Henrietta’s doctors never explained all the side effects of the cancer treatments until Henrietta asked her doctor when she would be well enough to have another child.
Until then she did not know that her cancer treatments had left her infertile, unable to conceive another child. One out of many of Henrietta’s doctors wrote, “Told she could not have any more children. Says if she had been told so before, she would not have gone through with treatment (48). ” If doctors had communicated to Henrietta that infertility was a side effect she would never had to find out after the fact. And she would never had gone through with the cancer treatments. The second most valuable quality of a doctor-patient relationship I believe is informed consent.
Without communication there is no informed consent. Informed consent is a process of many steps. Patients are told about the possible risks and benefits of the treatment. They are also informed of the risks and benefits of other options, including not getting treatment. Almost all patients have a chance to ask their doctors questions and talk their treatment over with family if needed. In the end patients are able to use the information to help make a decision that they think is in their best interest. Without informed consent doctors were and are allowed to practice medicine unethically.
Doctors did not have to tell patients what they were doing. Henrietta Lacks doctors did just that. As Skloot states in her book, “But first – though no one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor-Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby. Then he placed the samples in a glass dish (33). ” Her doctors never informed Henrietta of her cervical cells being unknowingly taken and used.
They also never had consent to do so in the first place. The last most valuable quality of a doctor-patient relationship I believe is trust. Without communication and informed consent there is no trust. I feel those two qualities equal into trusting your doctor. If patients do not trust their doctors they will not see them. Even if they are ill or not. If patients don’t trust there doctors they need to talk to them, try to get to know them. Doctors are almost like teachers, they don’t necessarily know everything yet most people think they do.
They are only human and they can also make mistakes. Sometimes it depends on the mistakes, unknowingly or knowingly, they make if you want to continue to see them. Henrietta’s doctors knowingly did what I would call a mistake to her by taking her cells without her informed consent or knowledge. As Henrietta’s doctor states, “I see no reason why an interesting story cannot be made of it without using her name,” TeLinde replied. “Since there is no reason for doing it I can see no point in running the risk of getting into trouble by disclosing it (107). Yet at the time there was no law stating anything about patient confidentially.
Which leads me to believe he knew exactly what he did wrong and he did not want the family to find out. Education is very important for the treatment of a patient. Most educated patients have a tendency to be more devoted in their treatment, they work with their doctors toward finding treatments, rather then presuming their doctors will give them a prescription to make them feel completely cured. There are also times when patients have to make decisions for themselves, like when to go to the hospital or take their medication.
Patients can not always rely on doctors for everything. For patients being better educated about health conditions helps them feel more powerful and less dependent on doctors. For patients without education it is a very different outlook. They are not always involved with there health care, and let the doctors find the treatments for them. Some patients do assume that the medication they are taking will cure them. Although sometimes that’s not the case. Education is also important for the patients family.
Henrietta Lacks daughter Deborah was deeply affected by her mothers death. She had already grieved her mothers loss. Then one day she’s learns to her understanding that Henrietta’s cells, HeLa, were still alive. No less immortal. No one would explain to Deborah what a cell was. So she had to teach herself by reading basic science text books and a dictionary. But the more she read the more she struggled to comprehend. Not being able to comprehend her mothers cells made her fearful. It made her wonder if she was going to die at a young age like her mother.