This is kinda nuts.
Mrs. Lacks was never lacking in the fertility department – she had a shiz ton of kids before she passed on. But I wonder if she knew that she’d give birth to something even bigger? Like the imminent precursor to polio vaccines and cloning capabilities? With her actual cervix, no less? She wasn’t some scientist or patient volunteer, either. She was a mother, hard worker at a tobacco farm and then steel mill, and – unfortunately – eventually a cancer patient. She popped out a plethora of pups before getting the diagnosis from the doc – but during one of the treatments, they extracted both a healthy part and a cancerous section from her cervix. They didn’t tell her. She didn’t volunteer. It’s kinda fkkd, too, ‘cause it’s not like she was even dead yet (which would’ve still been awful, but somehow I feel like it would’ve been better than stealing lady parts on the sly). But that’s all very telling of the times. This was during the 50’s when – to offer some context – the institution Henri had to put her handicapped kid into was called “The Hospital for the Negro Insane.” Somehow, I feel like the thieving medical professionals who did this would’ve thought twice had she been Caucasian.
And I can’t help but wonder how she’d feel about it.
Sure, because of her cells HIV, Parkinsons, cancer, herpes, and a litany of other afflictions now have drugs to assuage the symptoms of sufferers. But shouldn’t she have had a say in whether or not she wanted to do that? Maybe she was Christian religious and felt like cloning’s too close to playing Glob. Or maybe she was forward thinking and believed that deadly afflictions are just nature’s way of keeping the population in check. Or maybe I’m totally wrong and she would have been happy to do it had she been asked– with the only stipulation being that the first research efforts were to work on a project of her choosing (maybe her specific kind of cancer – or whatever condition her kid who went to that asylum had). But she wasn’t asked.
Ya know, I have this theory.
I always wondered how some of the medical knowledge we get these days was ever acquired. Where’d they start? Like those procedures that seem violently invasive (i.e. cutting part of your eye, re-shaping it, replacing it AKA Lasick). Who would’ve agreed to doing that? After having the trauma inducing experience of the holocaust history forced upon me as a kid, I always wondered… of all those horrifying Nazi torture experiments, did we build our medical experience on tests done in those concentration camps? Is part of my not-dead-yet status because of brutalized Jewish prisoners? Is current medicine based on that? I say this because – think of it – who would’ve volunteered to be the first person to have their eyes sliced open when they might go blind? And when you could just wear glasses instead? You can’t very well click robotic binoculars back and forth for lab animals and ask ‘em “Better? Worse?” *click click* “Better? Worse?” Unless you work for Dr. Moreau.
Mouse 1: “Remember when we could tell if a knife was coming after our tails?”
M2: “Yeah… those were the days.”
M3: “Wait…What’s embedded into our faces? Are these sunglasses?! Oh that’s just-…That’s just sick.”
So it had to be on a human. And probably an unwilling one. The reason I feel Miss Lack’s story’s related to my theory (which I’m pretty much convinced has to be true – if not for something like Lasick – then for a miscellany of other medical studies) is because of that point I brought up a couple paragraphs ago: her race. The Jews were deemed okay to experiment on – whether or not we now use information gathered from those tests – because of their race. Henrietta had her chick tissues burgled, likely also because of her race, given the context of the era when segregation (a concept I still have trouble wrapping my head around) was still a thing. And furthermore, she had something else stolen from her because of that – the self-affirmation you feel from helping out humanity. Because I’m glad we’re finding cures thanks to her cells – but I just feel like they could’ve fkkn asked her. She probably would have said yes.
And died feeling like her death wasn’t completely senseless.