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Ethics in Health & Human Services

The healthcare industry is integral as it helps maintain people’s health, and it ought to make ethical decisions regarding patients and other people involved. A family consents to a medical gift, 62 years later, written by Carl Zimmer in 2013, shows ethical decision-making was not employed in the case of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American who died in 1951 of cervical cancer (Zimmer, 2013). Unethical decision-making was observed in various circumstances, like her cells being removed by medical practitioners without her consent. Therefore, this paper discusses whether doctors violated Henrietta Lack’s rights in the article, A family consents to a medical gift, 62 years later.

Medical practitioners experience situations where they have to make ethical decisions. They can integrate their moral compass with different philosophical approaches to assist decision-making during typical healthcare scenarios. These philosophical approaches include the Utilitarian approach, commonly used in making ethical decisions involving a huge group of people (Udoudom, 2021). I will use this approach in reviewing Henrietta Lacks’ case since the physician’s judgment could affect the whole family of Henrietta. It argues that a decision will generally produce either positive or negative results; therefore, people should make decisions that will result in more good than harm. The Common Good approach can also be used in healthcare scenarios as it argues that people’s actions and decisions should contribute positively to ethical communal life (Hussain, 2018). Furthermore, the approach emphasizes the need for people to be respectful and compassionate toward the most vulnerable in society.

Distinct ethical situations are identified in Henrietta’s case. First, her cells were removed and later used in an average of 74,000 studies without consent (Zimmer, 2013). Patients are legally supposed to give permission to determine if they are participating in a research willingly or not. I would resolve this situation through the Utilitarian approach by informing Henrietta that her cells survived in a lab and that I would like to use them in further research before her death. Through this, I would prevent the release of any negative information about her and her family in her genomes to the public.

Secondly, the physicians didn’t inform Henrietta’s family about rearing and using her cells for research since her death in 1951. It was in 1973 that her family received the information when a doctor asked for blood samples (Zimmer, 2013). I would pay respect to the family by involving them in all research conducted regarding sequencing her genome without prioritizing the profits I would make in creating new medications with the cells. As a doctor, I would have made ethical decisions in Henrietta’s case. I would have obtained and used the cells with consent because using them without is unethical and injustice. Hence, I criticize some doctors’ decisions, including not informing the family about using Henrietta’s cells globally in healthcare advancements.

In summary, the healthcare industry is vital and tasked with making ethical decisions. However, A family consents to a medical gift, 62 years later, written by Carl Zimmer in 2013, exhibits Henrietta Lack’s doctors making unethical decisions. Henrietta is a black American who died in 1951 of cervical cancer, and her doctors took her cells without her consent. The cells, commonly known as HeLa cells, were also reared and used in an average of 74,000 studies without her family’s acknowledgment. Therefore, the Utilitarian philosophical approach is most suitable in this health scenario as it helps in decision-making involving many people. In line with this, I would make ethical decisions in contrast to Henrietta’s doctor’s decisions because making the same would be unjust.


Hussain, W. (2018). The common good.

Udoudom, M. (2021). The value of nature: Utilitarian perspective. GNOSI: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Human Theory and Praxis4(1 (May)), 31-46.

Zimmer, C. (2013). A family consents to a medical gift, 62 years later. The New York Times7.


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