By Tyasia W.

Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman, who got her cells taken from her illegally and without her consent. But because she was black and went to a public free ward, doctors thought they had the right to take cells not knowing that her cells would be immortal or be one of the biggest things in history.

Henrietta Lacks dropped out in the 6th grade and only went to the hospital when needed. Even if the doctors would’ve asked to take her cells, Henrietta wouldn’t quite understand because of her little education experience. The doctors thought it was right to take a samples from Henrietta because she went to a free public ward. Doctors mostly tried to keep taking the cells from Henrietta a secret until they learned that her cells were multiplying and not dying and when they found this out they started shipping the cells all across the world  and by the time they could ask Henrietta she was dead and her cells had already been everywhere.

The main problem with the Henrietta Lacks case is that doctors felt the right to take her cells without her permission because she was in a free ward and didn’t really know what was going on she just wanted to get better. The doctors took advantage over her cells even after they realized they were wrong for doing it. The worst part about the Henrietta Lacks case is the fact that nobody ever got justice for and by the time it got around Henrietta was long gone.

European Imperialism in Africa connects to the Henrietta Lacks case because European countries colonized Africa. One of the reasons they colonized Africa was because after the Industrial Revolution unemployment, poverty, and homelessness had spread through Europe. Africa’s lack of development made it easier for European countries to control and colonize parts of Africa because European countries could take whatever they wanted because no one would stop them.

Another reason there was colonization in Africa because of the power struggles between the different countries and that started a competition for power/dominance with Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Back then countries believed whoever had the most territory had the most power and colonizing Africa showed power and ownership.

Africa was known for having the natural resources that European countries needed which was another reason why European Imperialism started in Africa. New discoveries of natural resources only encouraged the colonization of Africa.

Also European countries also seen Africans as a non threat because Africans let Europeans take advantage of them which is how European Imperialism and Henrietta Lacks connect because Henrietta Lacks was taken advantage of by doctors because she was black, had little education, and because she was in a public free ward. The way European countries took over Africa was how the doctors took over Henrietta. Mostly the main reason why these things are similar because back then people used to think that black people are weak, easy to take advantage of , and dumb.

In my opinion, I think what leads to colonization or colonizing other people has to do with sacrifice and selfishness because people always think about what’s best for them and not anyone else. For example, European countries colonized Africa so they could show THEIR power and how great THEY were not how Africa felt and for Henrietta Lacks the doctors were worried about how big THEY would be in the world, not how Henrietta felt and how she had to go through the pain or who she was as a person they only cared for her cells. Sacrifice is involved because the doctors could’ve lost their jobs because they didn’t get permission from Henrietta to take her cells.


2 thoughts on “European Imperialism, Medical Practices, and Henrietta Lacks: Connected?

  1. I think it’s interesting how you discuss the way race impacted both Henrietta Lack’s situation and the case of European Imperialism in Africa. Specifically, you said, “The way European countries took over Africa was how the doctors took over Henrietta. Mostly the main reason why these things are similar because back then people used to think that black people are weak, easy to take advantage of, and dumb.” This made a lot of sense to me, although I wonder whether people only thought this way “back then,” as you said. It seems like lots of people and businesses still prey on poor people of color (payday loan companies spring to my mind first).

    I also wonder how race could have functioned to put Henrietta in a position where she was easy to take advantage of, and wasn’t able to resist her doctors or “colonizers.” As you noted, Henrietta didn’t have access to an education after 6th grade, which would have made it harder for her to be informed about the medical practices being performed on her. Like Africans who were faced with new, industrial European weapons (such as the Maxim gun), it seems like Henrietta was set up to be exploited as soon as she walked into that free, public ward. In some respects, it’s surprising that doctors did not take more advantage of her and other poor and/or black patients. This makes me wonder – should Henrietta’s poor treatment be blamed on Johns Hopkins or on the society that prepares some people to be able to give informed consent and others to lack the resources and education to do so?


  2. I would like to start by saying that the paper is well written and I can see where your going with it. I would suggest comparing the key factors behind imperialism to the actions of the doctors who worked in Henrietta and other African American during that time. But, besides that, I think that you have a very well written paper. And I enjoyed reading it!


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