Study Document

Henrietta Lacks and the Social Covenant of Nursing Essay

Related Topics: Nursing Medicine Treatment Nurses

Pages:6 (1650 words)



Topic:Henrietta Lacks

Document Type:Essay


Nurses are always considered helpers and the profession is widely regarded as one for compassionate and helping individuals. The Nursing’s Social Policy Statement is a work that seeks to detail the many ways in which nurses can assist others. How nurses relate with the society is through a relationship. A relationship that is sort of a social contract complete with expectations from both sides. The relationship allows nurses to carry out their professional duties in the provision of care to individual clients and to the society. It also empowers nursing practitioners to engage in policymaking, legislative and political action for the purposes of improving the provision of care, improving nursing practice, improving nursing research, and improving nursing education. It also enables nurses to comprehend the concepts of justice and social ethics and the roles they play in individual and societal health (Fowler, 2015). This work discusses the nursing social contract with regards to Henrietta Lack’s story as detailed in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot, 2010).

Henrietta Lacks was a poor, undereducated, African American woman living in Baltimore in the 1940s. She was married and had five children with her husband who is named David. For quite some time, she was living with abdominal pain that she could not explain. In 1950, she decided enough was enough and asked her husband to take her to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was the only regional health facility where black people could get treatment for complicated conditions back then (Skloot, 2010).

After undergoing tests at the hospital, she was found to have cervical cancer. This was in the second month of 1951. She subsequently received radiation treatment under general anesthesia. Cervical radiation treatment was the gold standard intervention back then for the disease. Continuing research at the hospital by two physicians, George Gey and Richard TeLinde, plays an important role in Henrietta Lacks’ story. Gey was trying to develop and grow immortal cell lines in the lab for research, while TeLinde was a renowned cervical cancer doctor who at the time was investigating how cervical cancer types are related (Skloot, 2010; Stump, 2014). 

Just 21 days into utilizing Lacks’ cells for research, Gey made a breakthrough in his research. Lacks’ cells were special and enabled him to make the first immortal cell line from humans. He called them HeLa cells by combining the first two letters of Lacks’ first and second names (Stump, 2014). From then on, the cells have been used to develop cancer treatments, HPV vaccines, smallpox vaccines, and polio vaccines. They have also been utilized in over 80,000 studies and investigations. In the tenth month of 1951, Mrs. Lacks died. She died never knowing the significant role she played in advancing human medicine.

What does “Social Contract” Mean?

A social contract with regards to the nursing profession specifies how nurses and the society relate. It also specifies how nurses relate with one another. One can think of…

Some parts of this document are missing

Click here to view full document

…did not beat cancer. She died at a young age and left behind her husband and their five children. Her family was never informed that her cells helped to launch a medical research industry worth billions of dollars and never got any compensation.

Lastly, the medical professionals failed the accountability test. For many years, medical professionals have recognized and embraced the fact that they are accountable to the people they treat or care for, to the society, and to each other (American Nurses Association, 2010). Accountability to individual patients should take the priority. The medical professionals caring for Mrs. Lacks should have focused all their resources on helping her rather than conducting research for posterity. This is a fact even though the end product of the research has subsequently helped many people (Quinlan, 2018).


Nurses and all other care providers have a social contract with the society. Through the contract, much is expected from them. They are expected to provide care, to be transparent, to be accountable, and to contribute to the society. In return, they get status, respect, financial benefits, recognition, and relevance from individuals and the society.

Mrs. Lacks story shows a case in point where medical professionals were not careful sustaining the unwritten rules of the social contract. Maybe it was because of her race. Maybe it was because of her financial status. Or maybe it was because things were lax back then. Nevertheless, the case shows a situation where the patient…

Sample Source(s) Used


American Nurses Association. (2010). Nursing's social policy statement: The essence of the profession. Nursesbooks. org.

Cruess, R. L., & Cruess, S. R. (2008). Expectations and obligations: professionalism and medicine's social contract with society. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 51(4), 579-598.

Fowler, M. D. M. (2015). Guide to nursing's social policy statement: Understanding the profession from social contract to social covenant. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association.

Palmd, (2010). More on Lacks ethics. Science blogs. Retrieved from

Quinlan, C. (2018). Trust in Medical Research: The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks, Part 1. Science 36 Trial Mix. Retrived from

Reeves, S., van Soeren, M., MacMillan, K., & Zwarenstein, M. (2013). Medicine and nursing: A social contract to improve collaboration and patient-centred care. Journal of interprofessional care, 27(6), 441-442.

Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books.

Stump, J. L. (2014). Henrietta Lacks and The HeLa Cell: Rights of Patients and Responsibilities of Medical Researchers. The History Teacher, 48(1), 127-180.

Cite this Document

Join thousands of other students and "spark your studies."

Sign Up for FREE
Related Documents

Study Document

Henrietta Lacks As Human Beings, Each Person

Pages: 4 (1276 words) Sources: 3 Subject: Family and Marriage Document: #47517059

Henrietta Lacks As human beings, each person is born with certain inalienable rights. This is the basis for the American constitution and should include rights to the body as well as the spirit. The case of Henrietta Lacks was a milestone for medical research and has potentially led to curatives for many illnesses. However, the woman behind this research was never aware of her remarkable body. Henrietta Lacks was a cancer

Study Document

Henrietta Lacks an Unasked-For Immortality

Pages: 8 (2459 words) Sources: 1 Subject: Medicine Document: #98112420

In other words, Lacks's cellular content was taken without her consent, but this would have been the case for a wealthy white woman in the North. This does not make what happened to her morally right, of course, but it is important to remember that what happened to her was not simply because she was poor, female, black, and Southern. The fact that she died from her disease may have

Study Document

Henrietta Lacks Is Unique in Medical History.

Pages: 1 (390 words) Sources: 2 Subject: Business - Ethics Document: #39005596

Henrietta Lacks is unique in medical history. By chance, her cancer cells held special medical significance, which doctors and scientists discovered after harvesting the tissue post-mortem. The event occurred 50 years ago and the family of Henrietta was not told that her cells were taken. This decision is perfectly in line with medical ethics of the time, though it sits uncomfortably with our modern sensibilities. But ethics do change over

Study Document

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Pages: 3 (938 words) Sources: 2 Subject: Ethics and Morality Document: #63846826

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Many ethical concerns arise in the story of Henrietta Lacks. Privacy is perceived as an ethical dilemma in the present times, however, at the time it occurred it might not have been seen as unethical. Skoot (2010) in the book discusses the unintentionally inconsiderate reporters and researchers who were in violation of the family's privacy by printing and distributing all aspects ranging from the medical records

Study Document

Belmont Report to the Case of Henrietta

Pages: 2 (623 words) Sources: 2 Subject: Family and Marriage Document: #939832

Belmont Report to the case of Henrietta Lacks and how they were violated The three principle keys in the Belmont Report (1974) involving Henrietta's case were the respect for people, beneficence, and also justice. In respect of the people, two important elements are involved which include all people being treated as autonomous while the other persons with lesser independent autonomy be protected. With beneficence, the researchers should minimize profits while

Join thousands of other students and

"spark your studies".