Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I was reading the latest book about HeLa cells and to be honest I was shocked. Not so much of the history of HeLa cells and the social tragedy the Lacks family had to go through. Of course I feel with them and all the terrible things they had to endure, but I believe they would have met the same challenges with or without the history of HeLa cells. Wether they would have any right to the proceeds deriving from the research performed with the help of HeLa cells seems to be a matter of debate, I personally do not believe so. However, if you want to help people that are in need and did contribute to science without their knowledge you can give to the Henrietta Lacks foundation. But even more than being sorry for the Lacks family I was shocked by what doctors did back then and what doctors possibly still do in other parts of this world, where nobody looks at their work.

HeLa cells are cells derived from the cervix carcinoma of a woman named Henrietta Lacks. The cells were removed without her knowledge from her tumor in 1951 and are growing in cell culture labs around the world since. They were the first cells that really kept growing and are now the basis of many drugs and scientific progress. I think it is out of question that she and her family should have been asked permission or at least informed of the usage of her cells. Being uneducated and entrapped in religious superstition (no offense please) they believed that their mother was actually still alive, cloned and had to suffer from all kind of treatments, AIDS and other diseases, nuclear bombs and outer space when they finally learned about the cells many years later. Through a long struggle over many years they tried to raise awareness and receive the credit her mother deserved for her "donation".

To come back to where I started from, I learned that doctors back then did, sometimes cruel, experiments on African Americans without their knowledge and often without the knowledge of the public. They seemed just to do whatever they could think of, and this was after the whole world condemned the cruel experiments Nazis did in concentration camps! One of the doctors just injected HeLa cells into patients and prisoners, partially without their knowledge, not even to think of their permission, to see if they would develop tumors. And guess what, they did develop tumors, some of them reoccurring after removal.

Who knows what is happening in hospitals and labs around the world nowadays. Once again an example of how terrible humans can be. The book presents many other examples of these kind of experiments. How could these people sleep at night?


  1. oooh! im also reading that book right now. and indeed, i am thinking the same; unbelievable what they all just did! and really not that long ago! it was in the late 60's!!!! here in the us!! where everything is supposed to be so advanced and so on.... my parents were then in their 20's.... unbelievable. i had no clue of all of this, and indeed was wondering; what other terrible things are just happening of which we have no clue at all?!
    just because people think they have the right to do such things... ?
    (and i feel the book is interesting, but i dont really like the writing style, and i dont really like how she stresses so much how sad the story of that family is; no matter how hard their life was; stuff happened without consent and thats the point... but perhaps people wont read it if you dont make it "juicy.."). but im not even halfway yet..

  2. exactly, it is outrageous....

    I feel the same about the Lacks family. I mean they had to go through pretty bad stuff, but that did not have anything to do with HeLa. I thought it was a good read though....

    I was also amazed on how much time a person (Journalist) would spend to research and write such a book, it better be successful then....

  3. yes, i joined a bookclub here at the institute, a good stimulus to finally start reading again... ( i didnt read since i started here... :((( ), most people like it so far. i seem to be the only one! maybe im too critical... i also think sometimes shes too personal; this book is not about her! and i really do think so often she really wants to stress how sad it all is for that family; but when that all was happening, they were not even aware of HeLa.....

  4. book club, that is interesting! let me know which books I have to read:) But yeah, I totally agree with you.

  5. The great condradiction of history. We are increasingly overcrowding the planet, ruining its environment, and creating a future for our children in which it will be harder to thrive. However, history teaches that unthinkable atrocities such as you describe here happened a mere 50 years ago. What progress we made in human rights or medicine. Does it live up to the polution and consumerism of the 21st century?

  6. In some parts of this world human live is probably more worth and actually has the security of human rights. But overall I think we lack much behind and probably nobody really knows how much. Not even to think of pollution and resources, we even do not have all the information together to make an educated decision. So we are much behind. However, reading books or watching documentaries of the past centuries, we are much better off then before at least in Western countries....