The treatment of African Americans in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks demonstrates the lack of ethics in the United States health care system during the 1950s and 1960s. Under the impression that medical doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital were solely injecting radium treatment for cervical cancer, Henrietta Lacks laid on the surgical bed. During this procedure Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr. shaved two pieces of tissue from her vagina, one from a healthy cervical tissue and one from the cancerous tumor, without Henrietta’s prior knowledge. After recovering from her surgery Henrietta exited the door marked, “Blacks Only,” the door that signified the separation between White and African-American patients. Had Henrietta been White, would the same outcomes have occurred? How badly did a country that proclaimed to be “One Nation under God” divide this very land into two separate nations? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks truly exhibits the racial disparity in the health care system.
Henrietta Lacks, birthed Loretta Pleasant, was born on August 1, 1920 to poor African- American parents. Although she was native of Roanoke, Virginia, Henrietta spent the majority of her childhood in Clover, Virginia on the tobacco field with her grandfather and a host of cousins. As a result of the excessive “quality” time with her cousins Henrietta became attached to one in particular, David “Day” Lacks. He later fathered her first child. At the age of fourteen Henrietta conceived her first child, Lawrence Lacks. Unlike White mothers who birthed their children in hospitals; Henrietta birthed her child in her grandfather’s home-house, a four room cabin previously used as slave quarters. While White patients were certain to receive the upmost patient care in hospital, African-American women had no choice than to birth their child at home. African-American women chose this alternative because nearby hospital didn’t nurse African-American patients or the patient care was utterly absurd. This marked the commencement of the ethical partition between both races within the novel.
The unethical practices against the African-Americans in the U.S. Public Health Service became even more evident when the dreaded “C” word, also known as cancer, struck the body of Henrietta Lacks. After complaining of an invasive pain in her lower abdomen and excessive blood secretion, Henrietta went to the only hospital that treated African Americans with illnesses of that magnitude. At Johns Hopkins Hospital, Howard Jones cut a small sample of Henrietta’s cervix and sent it to the pathology lab. After a few weeks of testing, Henrietta received a call requesting that she return to Hopkins to begin her cancer radiation treatment. During Henrietta’s first radiation treatment, the surgeon on duty Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr., picked up a sharp knife and began shaving pieces of tissue from her cervix-without receiving patient’s consent.
As preposterous as it sounds some medical professions believed...