|Henrietta and her husband David Lacks|
“Shortly after Henrietta turned 30, she felt a knot in her lower stomach that she knew meant something was wrong. But with a husband and a house full of kids to take care of, Lacks could ill afford to worry for long; her family also had little money for a doctor's visit, and at the time, many hospitals offered African-American patients substandard treatment.
“Months later, after the birth of her fifth child, the knot was still there, so Lacks finally asked her husband to drive her to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only medical facility nearby that saw "colored people" for free. There, the doctors diagnosed Lacks with stage I epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, which would require her to have radiation treatments a few times a month. During her first two-night stay in the hospital, doctors sliced several pieces of tissue from her cancerous tumor and placed them in a dish in the hopes of growing and studying them. Neither Lacks nor her family gave permission for her cells to be taken,” writes Allison Samuels for the Daily Beast, 2/13/201
Rebecca Sklott author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks writes: “On February 1, 1951, under the cover of a solitary tree, David Lacks stared through the window of his parked car, watching the rain fall. He and his five children, three still in diapers, sat outside Hopkins Hospital, waiting for Henrietta. A few days earlier, she had found blood spotting her underwear.
The cancer was too far along to cure. It was completely ravishing her body. Henrietta Lacks died a horrific death October 4, 1951. Sklott said Lacks was moaning, asking “the Lord to help her.”
Allison Samuels editorialized that, “Some 60 years after doctors committed what today would be an unconscionable violation of medical ethics, there's still only limited information on how often the practice of taking samples without consent was done to patients of poor backgrounds and limited education.
But Henrietta Lacks certainly wasn't the only African-American mistreated by the American medical establishment. Books such as Harriet Washington's Medical Apartheid have documented many cases of blatant misuse of medical practices on unknowing and unsuspecting black patients in the name of furthering science and discovering cures.”
When she died at age 31, Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave. In recent years the medical community donated money for a gravestone. Lacks surviving family members, still dirt poor, learned about the cells and their contribution to the medical world 25 years later.
|Gravestone made possible with donations from medical community|
Jet magazine said the family was angry — angry that Henrietta's cells were being sold for twenty-five dollars a vial, and angry that articles had been published about the cells without their knowledge. "Pounding in the back of their heads was a gnawing feeling that science and the press had taken advantage of them."
Recently (2013) the National Institute of Health agreed with Lacks family that they should be some control of how Henrietta's genome is used. Unfortunately, they will not be rewarded financially. And despite of the agreement that was reached, the family was ignored again.
For more information about Henrietta Lacks life as told by Rebecca Sklott, key in her name on Google. Below is a interview with Sklott, in which she talks about Lacks.