Henrietta Lacks and Human Subject Research: A Look at Past, Present, and Future

Date & Time

Wed, 05/02/2012


Exploring Ethics: Henrietta Lacks and Human Subject Research – A Look at Past, Present, and Future (Video)Does Patenting Genes Stifle Innovation and Health Care Access? (Op-Ed)

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The 9th and final forum of the Exploring Ethics Henrietta Lacks Series looks at the history of human subjects research in the sixty plus years since the death of Henrietta Lacks.

Moderator, Mary Devereaux and a student panel representing the UCSD Student Society for Medical Ethics will reflect on the Lacks case in the historical context of the 1940s and 50s, drawing on Skloot’s illuminating analysis of the divergent attitudes of patients, clinicians, and researchers at the time. Ethical attitudes have no doubt evolved since the era of Tuskegee and federal law now tightly regulates human subjects research. Nonetheless, scientists continue to face a range of challenges, particularly in working with vulnerable populations such as psychiatric patients, prisoners, the poor, or the infirm.

  • How do scientists ensure the rights and welfare of all human subjects?
  • How do they correct for their own biases and assumptions about groups unlike themselves?
  • Equally important, how do researchers get community “buy in” and guarantee transparency and fairness to those they study?

Panelists will set the framework for audience discussion of these and related issues by examining the recommendations of a 2012 Presidential Commission Report that reviewed current regulations and international standards of human subjects research. The panel concludes with a brief example of effective partnering between researchers and the community from which they draw their subjects.
To view a recording of this event, please click here.


Mary Devereaux
Director, Biomedical Ethics Seminars, UCSD Research Ethics Program, UCSD Health Law Academic Coordinator

Mary Devereaux, Ph.D., is a philosopher and bioethicist with the UC San Diego Research Ethics Program. She is Director of Biomedical Ethics Seminars, Health Law Program Academic Coordinator, and Adjunct Professor of Law at California Western School of Law. She speaks widely on issues in biomedical and research ethics for academic and lay audiences. Devereaux serves on the Hospital Ethics Committee at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest and provides ethics training to graduate students in the life sciences and the School of Medicine. In addition, Devereaux provides ethics expertise to the Embryonic Stem Cell Review and Oversight Committees (ESCRO) at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, The Salk Institute, The La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and UC San Diego. Recent publications include work on medical tourism, ethical issues in stem cell research, cosmetic surgery and other medical enhancements, and reproductive medicine.

Michael Cheng
UC San Diego Student Society for Medical Ethics
Dong Tran
UC San Diego Student Society for Medical Ethics
Nitin Prabhakar
UC San Diego Student Society for Medical Ethics