Also it's overly simplistic to say pharma companies are making "billions" off her cells. HeLa is a part of the workflow but far far far from the only part. Also value is in the work of scientists understanding the cell biology using her cells as a model, not some inherent value in the particular genome of HeLa.
If I recall correctly they had been trying to grow a cell line for years. Her cancer had a specificity that made it possible.
Are we going to now start celebrating the people who got the first smallpox or polio vaccines as great contributors to science just because they were chosen to be the first for a procedure?
Attributing impact to figures who didn't personally do anything demeans the struggles and accomplishments of actual minority scientists.
Framing the conversation into the typical American oppression zeitgeist is ignoring the fact that Henrietta played a role in changing how humans looked at this ethical conundrum, period. This change in thinking will last forever, whereas America will not, just like the Ancient Greek civilization did not last forever, but much of the thinking and discovery influenced the rest of history (such as the Hippocratic oath). She allowed her cells to be used - she choose to be trusting to the doctors who were treating her, having no idea whether she would be OK or not, having no idea what would happen in the future, and then the doctors turned around and shared her cells for free with thousands of other doctors because they saw it as a medical miracle. This has subsequently been discovered, from an ethical sense, to be totally immoral, regardless of the good intentions of the doctors, whereas previously it was considered a moral imperative. Her decision and role in this part of history didn't "remind us to think about ethics," it completely changed how this area of ethics are even thought about, and that will be a benefit to anyone who ever visits a doctor or has any medical problem, ever, which is pretty much 100% of everyone.
This book will be a quick read for most people, as the author is very good with her prose and knows how to weave a narrative. The impact that Ms. Lacks had on modern science cannot be understated, and it will be a good evening read that both gives you a basic run down of the impaction science that her cells had on modern medicine as well as a very sad story with some positive outlooks on the results of Ms. Lacks' contribution to modern medicine.
Pelvic Exams On Anesthetized Women Without Consent: A Troubling And Outdated Practice: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17088054
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