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Benefit-"A thing well done; a good or noble deed."-OED

veritatemdilexi's picture

 As I am now skeptical of all the words that I read, I looked up the word benefit in the OED and was reminded that benefit is both a noun and a verb.  I am used to benefit being used as a verb- "To do good to, to be of advantage or profit to; to improve, help forward."  

However, the noun form of benefit most closely ascribes what I believe Henrietta Lacks' action demonstrates- "a thing well done; a good or noble deed."  By Henrietta Lacks' signature on her OPERATION PERMIT(p. 31), on February 5, 1951 she allowed the world of medical research to progress further.  Although Henrietta did not know that her cancer cells would be taken and used for research, the fact that she as an African-American woman had left the home that she had known all her life, moved to Baltimore, raised 4 children, provided food and shelter for her family and friends proves that her life produced many benefits.  Like all humans, Henrietta's benefits are not all equally weighed the same, and in her specific case, Henrietta's greatest benefit was the not the product of her choices or will, which raises a larger question how many of us of control over how our own benefits will be assessed?  I admire Henrietta Lacks, I think she was a woman who showed great initiative, and from what her friends and family recall she was a pleasure to be around-"she was really just hospitality"-what higher compliment can there be?

Now for the verb form of benefit, which is the tense that I think Ms. Skloot is referencing in the following statement: “The truth is, not everyone does benefit. The people who benefit are people with money. The people it doesn’t help are people like the Lackses, people who do not have money, minorities. People who historically have been hurt most by research done without their consent tend to be the ones who do not benefit.” (Hopkins Article) According to this quotation Benefit=Money.  If we look at the concept of benefit in this paradigm then it is true the Lackses did not receive any monetary benefit from their mother's cells being used for medical research.  If we allow the word benefit to be interpreted to include "to good to, to improve, to help forward" then I think the above quotation is completely incorrect-The Lackses' benefitted from the Polio Vaccine, treatments for influenza, to name just a few of the advances in medicine that the HeLa cell provided. Skloot states "One of the really tragic dimensions of the Lacks story is the fact that her children still experience enormous difficulty getting access to decent medical care.” (Hopkins Article)  Access to medical care in this country is an important issue, and the fact the the Lackses directly contributed to medical advancement and are unable to access "decent medical care" has to be frustrating for the family.  Which raises the question what is the greatest frustration for the Lacks family-the fact that they do not have access to "decent medical care", or the fact that they do not have monetary compensation from the Biotechnology companies that profit from the HeLa cell? I applaud Ms. Skloot's establishment of the Henrietta Lacks foundation which provides grants and medical assistance to the Lacks family- "The first awards cover full tuition and books for five descendants of Henrietta Lacks starting fall semester 2010, as well as health care and emergency needs grants for two members of her immediate family.''  (First Henrietta Lacks Foundation Website)."





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