IC Library hosts discussion on medical ethics

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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As a prequel to the descendent family members of Henrietta Lacks speaking at the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 9, professors from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine spoke at the Iowa City Public Library Tuesday night about the history of medical ethics, as well as issues that still exist today regarding humans being used in research.

More than sixty years ago, scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital took the cells of cervical cancer patient, Lacks, without her consent in order to conduct experiments on them. The few cells that they took went on to change history with their rare ability to divide indefinitely, which made them ideal for scientific research. However, the fact that doctors at the time never got consent from Lacks made her case a central focus in the issue of human consent regarding medical studies.

“In planning for the book festival and the Lacks family coming, we decided that we would hold book discussions,” said Maeve Clark, the information-services coordinator for the library. “But we also thought a broader discussion of medical ethics seemed appropriate, and that’s why we held this event.”

Speakers at the event included Andrew Bertolatus, Executive Director of Human Subjects Office & Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Martine Dunnwald, Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics-Neonatology.

The speakers emphasized the current laws of research on human beings, as well as how the field of medical research on humans developed.

“I think it’s important for people to understand what regulations govern the ability of scientists to do research on human beings,” Bertolatus said.

Clark said the program, which drew crowds large enough to nearly overflow the presentation room at the library, provided citizens with a solid background before the main event with the Lacks family next Thursday.

“I think that people left with a better understanding of what took place in the past with human experimentation and medical ethics, as well as an understanding of the legislation that now governs how human experimentation that takes place and how that has changed,” Clark said.

— by Julia Davis

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