On April 25th, 2012 Rebecca Skloot, author of the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, spoke at Yawkey Center in the Murray room on Boston College’s campus. Skloot spoke about the life of Henrietta Lacks who was uninformed on the extraction of her cells for the benefit of helping science. Due to her cells being able to reproduce in unlimited amounts, Lacks was able to contribute in phenomenal amounts to the science of immunity and cell growth. What was unethical about this situation though, was that she was never asked for her consent to having her cells taken from her cervix when she was going through cervical cancer treatment. Also, the way Lacks’ children were treated after her death while doctor’s tried to further the development of the HeLA cells (named after Henrietta Lacks) contributed to the unscrupulousness of the project. Skloot discussed how Lacks’ cells were taken along with how it has affected her family in the process.
I found this lecture very inspiring for how I would hold myself as a professional nurse in the future. Skloot discussed how the children of Lacks were ignorant as to why they were involved in further tests of their mother’s cells after she had already passed away from cervical cancer. They believed they were being checked for the lethal cancer that killed their mother, even though the researcher claimed to have explained to them that she just wanted to look at their cells. This was completely unethical since they were not aware of the real purposes of the tests being done. The tests also created a lot of emotional trauma; Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, was terrified at the idea of dying from the same illness that ended her mother’s life. Since Deborah thought she was being tested for cervical cancer, she thought there was a possibility of dying soon like her mother. Her assumptions were incorrect since the researcher’s just wanted to grasp the children’s cells in order to learn more of their mother’s cells. Of course, this too is unethical since so much private information can be released from an individual’s DNA and the children did not realize what they were signing.
All of the unethical situations touched upon in Skloot’s discussion will remain in my mind as I further my nursing career. I want to be able make sure my patients feel comfortable asking me for clarification regarding a procedure they may need to undergo. Most importantly, I want to be able to have my patients repeat back to me what I have explained to them so that I know they understand the procedures and the documents they are signing.
Rebecca Skloot has provided me a new perspective on how patients should be treated. I realize that I will encounter many patients with varying backgrounds, races, education statuses and financial standings. I want my patients to be able to feel at ease with my presence and see me as a source of knowledge, comfort and support through the difficult times they may endure during their need of health services. This discussion also inspired me to put a stop to unethical treatments so that all humans are treated justly no matter where they have come from.