In the third part of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, Skloot works with Henrietta Lack’s family to find out what really happened with the HeLa cells. As in the first two parts, abuse of power and informed consent, as well as racism plays prevalent roles in the story.
While it is obviously highly immoral at the individual level for a doctor to violate laws of informed consent and essentially steal property through the loophole of fine print on a legal document, I think that this issue is an overall systemic problem. Moore v Regents of the University of California is a prime example of where priorities lie for not only the doctors but also the American Government. John Moore, a patient who had his spleen removed, unknowingly signed his right to his cells away on a consent form. Due to the cells high antibody count it was extremely coveted by scientists and the patent to the cells sold for billions of dollars. When Moore took it to court, even knowing the cells were obtained through violation of informed consent, the court sided with the scientists ruling that once a cell is taken from the body it is no longer that individual’s property. The courts had one motivation: prevent de-motivation of researchers and companies, as well as maintain continued scientific discovery. As this example points out, the government cares more about monetary gain then the individual rights of its citizens.
Monetary gain over the wellbeing of society is again highlighted by the continued poverty of the Lacks family. The HeLa cells brought large monetary gain to multiple corporations, however Deborah who had significant health issues was unable to receive reliable medical treatment even though it was her mother’s cells that have brought wealth and scientific achievement to those who could help her. The fact that it took so many years for the Lacks to find out what was going on with Henrietta’s cells shows just how little the doctors care about Henrietta or her family past what they can do to maintain their research goals. The family was not contacted until they were asking for blood samples to fix the “contamination problem”, nor did the scientists care to have more information on Henrietta or her family past what it could do to make their research articles on HeLa have more “character”. With it so engrained in our society, will we ever be able to reform the blatant disregard of racism and human rights by our society in pursuit of monetary gain?