In the third chapter of the book “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” Skloot explores the events that occur in the medical field regarding HeLa cells advancement, as well as the conflicts that arise due to the researchers and journalists that attempt to profit off from Henrietta Lack’s cells without having any respect for Henrietta Lacks as a person or giving their family any rightful compensation.
The way in which doctors attempt to declare HeLa cells as their own species, or the way David Golde attempted to make profit off of John Moore, the patient, by using the cell he extracted from the patient without consent and patent it to generate billions of dollars all showcase the tendency of doctors to regard the cells of patients as a separate entity from the patient, and ignore the necessary consent needed in order to uphold the patient’s autonomy and right to his or her own cells.
Essentially, it could be argued that the doctor’s actions of prioritizing their personal profit over the patient’s welfare and wellbeing as well as their basic moral rights. The obvious assumption in this case is that the extraction of patient’s cells, or any other body part without their informed consent is inherently immoral.
However, if the patients were to be informed that the cells they possess have great potential benefit to the medical field, whether or not the patient is morally obligated to use the cells in order to contribute to the medical field and potentially save millions of lives.
This scenario could be compared to a situation in which a person sees another drowning person. Are they obligated to save their lives? Depending on the answer to this question, patients ought to have a moral obligation to use their cells in order to contribute to the medical field.
Lets then assume that the person decided to use his/her cells in order to generate a life saving vaccine or medicine. Then we would have to consider whether the wealth or money generated using the cell ought to be given to the patient. In a strictly Kantian perspective, since the cell has been originated from the person, it is intuitive that the person should be rewarded for the benefits that the cell created in society.
However, we need to consider whether an individual who only possesses the cell would be able to do the necessary research in order to develop such medicine. In a utilitarian perspective, in order to maximize the benefit that the cell has on people in the society, it would be most efficient that doctors, who have the necessary skills and knowledge that is needed to develop such medicine and be profited off from it, as in a free market economy, and due to the profit maximizing nature of human, the profit that returns to those specialized doctors is what would enable the development of the medical industry in the first place.