By Yemani J.

Doctors are people that we trust, with important things such as our bodies, personal information, or in Henrietta’s case, cells. Doctors help us figure out what’s wrong with our bodies and they help us get better. But not all doctors are trustworthy, according to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” some doctors are following the footsteps of European Imperialist by not informing their patients about the procedures that are occurring or the consequences behind them.

According to “Live Science” studies shows that “lack of trust comes from how Americans’ perceive doctors’ motivations”. Which is similar to the story of Henrietta Lacks, doctors took her cells without acknowledging her about it. They also have used her cells to cure diseases and her cells are worth billions of dollars. But Henrietta had no idea that this was happening, due to this story, it might have an impact on the way that Americans view doctors.  

Let’s go back to the 19th century, where European colonist believed that they were entitled to other people’s land. Just like doctors’, colonist used their power to take advantage of the unknowing, (West Africans) and in “the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” doctors used their power to take advantage of the African Americans. Colonist believed that they had to change the way of life starting from expanding their knowledge and changing the lives of many West Africans.

Imperialist searched had desire for dominance, new technology, and social Darwinism and I will  compare these actions and motives to the way that doctors run their medical practices. in 1870, john Ruskin believed in “seizing every piece of fruitful waste ground she can set her foot on… their first aims to advance the power o England by land and by sea.” (Doc B) Ruskin had the same mindset as Dr.Gey who wanted every piece of cell that he could get his hands on so that it could better his research and eventually make a profit from it. According to his assistant Mary Kubeck she has had her share in millions of cell but that all died. (pg.34)

This shows the dedication and motivation that Gey had for cells. The same motivation and dedication that Europeans had while showing signs of imperialism. They were so motivated that they thought that it was “ok” to carry cargo and allow them to die off from starvation and disease. Doctors showed this same attitude towards African Americans during the Tuskegee Syphilis study. When they exposed their bodies to cancer and watched them die slow, the messed up part about it is that doctors didn’t even inform them about what was going on. (pg.49)

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The picture above is a collage of photos during the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, looks a lot like slavery doesn’t it. Besides desire for dominance, Doctors also wanted to develop new technology, and a lot of today’s technology revolves around the cells of Henrietta Lacks. Imperialist desired new technology as well so that it could get them one step closer to imperialism. They used the “steam engine… first used in boats…electric telegraph… communication over long distances… maxim gun… first machine gun…repeating rifle… a faster-  loading gun… able to fire multiple shots more accurately than older muskets”.

According to access science, “Since the mid-twentieth century, the cells have been distributed around the world and used in innumerable medical endeavors, including investigations into the nature of cancer, the development of vaccines, the mapping of genes, the treatment of diseases, and the mechanisms involved with programmed cell death (apoptosis).” Just like the imperialist used new technology to accomplish their goals, so did the doctors during the 50’s and most of the doctors’ of today.

Other than control and new technology, Imperialist also craved Social Darwinism which is the belief of dominant races deserve better than the non dominant races. In the book, Skloot talks about how doctors’ kept information away from african americans (non dominant races) because they assumed that they wouldn’t understand or that it’s too complex to try to explain. But they tell white people (dominant races) what they plan on doing with their bodies and the procedures that will take place.

European imperialist and doctors are alike in many different ways. Don’t get me wrong there are doctors out there who aren’t shaky and who actually care about the wellbeing of their patients. But the main focus is on the doctors’ who don’t care about their patients and the ones that unknowingly follows the same path as European Imperialists.


One thought on “Are Doctors Following the Footsteps of European Imperialists?

  1. Your essay seems good as I read through. I like how you went to talk about the 19th century. “Let’s go back”. And talk about the Tuskegee study n have a picture of it. Also I agree that racism in imperialism is the same as Henrietta.


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