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Celebrating Ms. Henrietta Lacks

CMHC is Celebrating Black History Month!


This week's contributor is Ms. Henrietta Lacks.


Ms. Lacks is one of the many cases of Black individuals being mistreated in the medical field and contributes to skepticism and bias within the community around the medical system. This also includes the mental health field.


Ms. Lacks was a black woman, mother, and individual suffering from cervical cancer.


She sought help for the severe pain in her womb by going to Johns Hopkins Hospital. The collection and use of Ms. Lacks’ cells in research occurred in the 1950s without her consent. She was also unaware of the implications of the procedures she underwent.


“Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment.”- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Hopkins treated Ms. Lacks with radium and it was extremely ineffective. Ms. Lacks passed away with tumors all throughout her body. Johns Hopkins Hospital then mistreated and abused the circumstances of her passing, all because of what was discovered following her initial biopsy. Ms. Lacks’s cells, later called “HeLa” cells, were some of the first cancerous cells that scientists were able to keep alive in the lab. Today, these cells are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without having to experiment on humans. The cells have been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and have played a crucial role in the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines. However, the family of Ms. Lacks is still struggling to get recognition for Hopkins' actions. Please read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot to support the family of Ms. Lacks and to learn more about her story.


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