In an interview at Bucknell tonight, Rebecca Skloot discussed her book, entitled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Throughout her discussion, themes of race, science, and progress were brought up, along with the ethical dilemmas behind them. The book, which was published in 2010, focuses on Henrietta Lacks who, during her cancer treatment, had cells harvested from her body without consent. Her cells were cultured, grown, and sold, making them seem immortal, and contributed to scientific breakthroughs for polio, gene mapping, along with many other fields of study.
While her cells may have created many opportunities for study, Skloot’s interview focused on the life of the Lacks family, and the unethical way in which they were treated. One of the main ideas that was brought up time and time again in the interview were the ideas of consent and informing the patient. In the book, scientists came back to the Lacks family in the early 1970’s, and again took tissue samples without the consent of the family, and without informing the family regarding the cell’s purpose. This led to confusion and distrust within the Lacks family, as they had no idea what was happening when the doctors came to take away tissue samples.
What fascinated me about this story was how much it parallels to current ethical discussion in the business world today. For so long, both in the medical and business fields, society was focussed solely on the advancements they could accomplish in their respective fields. As time has moved forward,however, we have begun to see how this attitude can affect others, and the issues it can present down the line. In the medical field, this is shown by looking at how taking cells without consent can hurt the donor family, as seen through Rebecca Skloot’s interview. In the business field, this same idea is portrayed by how “sweat shop” factories can effect the individuals working in them. Initially, in both cases, the individual was overlooked for the sake of progress, but as a society, we are beginning to turn this view around. A further aspect of this is the necessity to provide sufficient information to the people you are working with in both the business and medical fields. Skloot pointed out in her interview how the result for the Lacks family could have been so much different if someone would have taken the time to explain to them what was happening. The same view applies to business, and leads me to as to what extent could the current Great Recession have been prevented if someone had truly taken the time to explain the loans given out to so many Americans.
It is only in recent years that people are beginning to inquire about the effects of their actions instead of only focussing on the progress they can make, and a major part of this thinking has resulting in the idea of informed consent. The idea of consent developed first, as we see how consent forms are used in almost every area of business and medicine today. The next step, however, will be equally important, with simple consent transitioning into fully “informed” consent.