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Opinion: The Afterlife of Cells in Research

GENETIC PRIVACY—U.S.

March 25, 2013

Peter Lipson discusses in Forbes the ethics and privacy issues related to the use of Henrietta Lacks’ cells after her demise from cancer and how their use affects her descendants. Doctors harvested Lacks’ cells decades ago without her consent, and they became the basis for a revolution in cell research. “With advances in genomics, the privacy question” for Lacks’ “descendants is very real,” writes Lipson. “Mrs. Lacks’ genomic information can tell us a great deal about her descendants…A genome is analogous to a diary in that it contains a great deal of personal information that does not automatically become property of the community after death.”
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