The best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – now also an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey – examines how, in 1951, cancer cells were harvested during a biopsy of an African-American woman without her knowledge. Those cells, known as HeLa cells, are the oldest and most commonly used human cell line in biomedical research and have had a significant impact on medical research and advancements in treatment for decades.
The story of Henrietta Lacks raises moral and ethical questions about patients’ rights. To start, the Lacks family was unaware their mother’s genetic tissue was taken and being used for research. Further, they never received any form of financial compensation for the profits gained by the medical community for more than 65 years. To this day, Lacks’ eldest son continues the family’s fight for compensation.