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The Unethical Treatment of Henrietta Lacks Still Lingers In Healthcare

2/28/2018, noon | Updated on 2/28/2018, noon
Dr. Howard Jones discovered a malignant tumor on Henrietta Lacks cervix in 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The events that ...
Henrietta Lacks unknowingly donated her cancer cells to medical research in 1951. Her cell line went on to become the greatest asset to medical advancements and saved millions. Photo Credit: Oregon State University.

Peek is a primary care physician and said she spends about 80 percent of her time doing research on health disparities and health equity issues primarily for African Americans.

“I think about the reasons that black people continue to have worse health and get treated in ways that are less equal in the healthcare system and ways that we can do better. Some of those reasons are rooted in those historical ways that black people were treat by physicians in the public healthcare system in the past and our collective memory of those things that get handed down generationally,” said Peek.

Peek said that she knows black people are less likely to seek medical attention, hesitant to trust the advice of their physician, and less likely to take medication and that it is directly related to these past instances of blacks being mistreated by medical professionals.

“These things linger and make it challenging for African Americans to be fully trusting of the health care system. Some of those logical choices that we make are in response to the lived experience we’ve had as people

and those which negatively impact our health. These kinds of things have had a historical legacy that continues to impact the health of African Americans on a daily basis,” said Peek.

There are more racial minorities in medicine today, which helps create a more comfortable space for African Americans to seek medical attention, according to Peek. Getting black people to want to seek out medical care is still a challenge, but Peek said she knows it is encouraging for her patients to see her as their physician.

“There is for the most part comfort, pride, and trust that comes with racial concordance for African Americans. People feel like there has been a safe space created where they don’t have to be afraid and they can potentially get better care,” said Peek. “Certainly for me I see that all the time from my patients in addition to just the cultural pride of seeing one of us who has made it and the happiness of seeing successful black women.”

The story of Henrietta Lacks will never be forgotten, but it cannot be denied that without her cells millions of people would not have received

the healthcare that they need.