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Hopkins didn't take advantage of Henrietta Lacks

I take great exception to reporter Andrea K. Walker's characterization of Henrietta Lacks as "a poor black woman taken advantage of by a larger medical institution" in reference to the Johns Hopkins Hospital ("Lacks' family to have say in use of her genetic material," Aug. 7).

In my view, Ms. Lacks was fortunate to have been admitted to Hopkins, and the doctors there did everything they could to save her life.

In the course of such treatment, it was standard practice to examine any tissue doctors found it necessary to remove from a patient. You might consult the Web site http://www.sciencemag.org and read the July 6, 2012, article entitled "Paying Patients for Their Tissue: The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks."

It is appalling that you would make such a statement regarding Hopkins. None of us are perfect, and your position as a journalist does not give you the right to destroy reputations or cast such aspersions.

I certainly hope that Oprah Winfrey will be more judicious and informed in making her movie. This is an incredibly complicated issue, as Rebecca Skloot's book and many related articles about Ms. Lacks make clear.

It appears Ms. Walker's statement expressed a personal opinion unsupported by the facts. Ms. Lacks was not "taken advantage of" but rather treated for a very serious cancer. I question why Ms. Walker even found it necessary to mention that Ms. Lacks was black. What did that have to do with the issue?

As a journalist, Ms. Walker is obligated to report facts. If she wishes to express her opinions she should do so in the appropriate venue. Shame on her for allowing her personal opinions to masquerade as fact.

Diane Kelly

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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