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HEAD: Henrietta Lacks Essay

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This essay will shed some light on the injustices behind animal testing and what has been
done to advocate for unethical situations regarding experimentation. Drug and cosmetic
companies have been experimenting on animals for many years, and consumers have recently
been paying more attention to the harm actually done to animals while running trials. This essay
will also talk about the correlation between testing on humans, such as Henrietta Lacks from The
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and what happens to animals. Every year,
an incredible amount of money from the government is spent on thousands of animals used in
drug and cosmetic trials in the United States. All over the world, consumers are realizing the
ethics behind treating lab animals and are demanding cruelty-free products. New science has
provided an alternative to live animal testing and is instead using live cells for the same


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Henrietta Lacks & Animal Testing

Every week, thousands of new drug and cosmetic products are flung into the sales market
to satisfy the need of consumers. Now, take a moment to think about the amount of products one
typically uses in a day. Face creams, body washes, deodorants, all went through some sort of
experimentation process to ensure that the product would be agreeable on your skin. This
experimentation process is done in labs, unfortunately with the help of animals, unless stated as
cruelty free. As stated in Nature Medical, Each chemical that goes through the multiple tests
required for registration can use up to 5,000 animals, or 12,000 if the chemical is a pesticide. (p.
1, Abbot)
Now imagine you are Henrietta Lacks, living in the 1950s, suffering severely from a
cervical tumor. Doctors from the Johns Hopkins Hospital are assisting you with your condition,
are successfully able to remove only parts of the large tumor occupying part of your body.
Something comes up in the study of the tumor; the cells from the cancerous tumor removed from
your cervix are reproducing! Doctors are puzzled and astonished from the reproducing cancer
cells and run many tests. Your cells become known as HeLa cells, and are sent off to hundreds of
hospitals for other labs to run tests of their own. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by
Rebecca Skloot, the ethics behind human and animal research is questioned and brought to light.
For many years, in vivo testing has been the method of choice when testing products,
which means the experiments are conducted on live beings. Many people have expressed their
opinions on live animal testing due to the cruelty normally associated with it. People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a large nonprofit corporation advocating for the rights of
animals who have been extremely proactive in the testing of animals by cosmetic and

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pharmaceutical companies. Apart from purely animal testing, experimentation on humans has
also been done to test certain products. Controversy arises behind the ethics of testing on both
humans and animals. An example of where animal testing became preferred is a time when
thalidomide was given to pregnant women to control morning sickness, but it caused horrible
birth defects. Because of this, governments were highly sensitive to public concerns and
called on their authorities to develop animal-based tests (p. 1, Abbot) The life and ethics of both
came into question when the government was suddenly asked to decide between the lives of
humans or the lives of animals. Human life became the priority and years of testing on animals
followed. Activists such as PETA and highly motivated citizens brought to light the horrible
treatment of animals in the experimentation facilities and asked for a call to action.
Studies have been done to see how crucial animal testing really is, and to draw pros and
cons of either side. A couple of statistics to support the unfairness behind animal testing begins
with how effective the tests truly are. To test a chemical for its potential to cause cancer takes
five years and involves 400 rats. More than 50% of the results are positive, of which 90% are
false positives. (p. 1, Abbott) A sad reality in these tests are that most animal tests over or
underestimate toxicity, or simply don't mirror toxicity in humans very well (p.1, Abbot).
Because of the rise in dissatisfaction from the public, a form of testing became more popular,
called in vitro testing. This method focuses on experimenting on partial or dead organisms, most
usually in regards to testing cells on a petri dish. The benefits of in vitro testing are economically
more cost efficient, because the cost of the animals goes down since the cells are only being used
for experimental testing (Nature Medicine, Dolgin) . Ethically, this method is more agreeable to
the public and has been receiving more support In fact, In Canada, Research Ethics Boards

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(REBs) have the power to refute or revoke finding for experiments that do not meet ethical
requirements. (Health Law, Tremayne-Lloyd & Srebrolow) The high demand for ethically
treating animals during testing phases has impacted the way Canada has run its research on
products. With more and more consumers in the United States addressing this animal rights
concern, companies are slowly progressing towards a cruelty-free alternative during the
experimentation process.
In the case of Henrietta Lacks, her cells were taken from her and unknowingly used in
hundreds of scientific experimentations in labs across the entire world. The Lacks family
received no monetary compensation for the successes belonging to HeLa cells used in drug and
vaccine trials, and was unaware of such experimentation for years. The ethics behind whether or
not it was correct to use Henrietta Lacks cells for testing came into question and also shed light
on animal rights.
It has always been a firm belief of mine to advocate for those who do not have the
necessary resources to advocate for themselves. I also believe that no one (or nothing) should be
forced or manipulated into a situation they do not fully understand. When it comes down to it, I
would rather risk the life of an animal to save the life of a human since I understand that there are
risks and casualties that come along with experimentation. I do however know that there is
generally an alternate approach to testing on animals, especially since they expect us to be their
voice. The more PETA and other organizations demand action in the way companies run their
drug and cosmetic trials, the more light gets shed on this injustice. As a society we are expected
to stand up for the voiceless, human and nonhuman, and the more attention this subject gets, the
more awareness we can bring to our peers.

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Dolgin, Ellie, (2010). News, Nature Medical. Animal testing alternatives come alive in
US, Volume 16, Number 12.
Abbott, Alison, (2005). News, Nature Medical. More than a cosmetic change,
Volume 438.
Tremayne-Lloyd, Tracy & Srebrolow, Dr. Gary, (2007). Health Law, Research Ethics
Approval for Human, Volume 51.
Skloot, Rebecca, (2010-2011). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, New York, Crown
Publishing Group