Evaluation on the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Evaluation on the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  During her visit to the John Hopkins hospital, the medical practitioners initiated samples from her cervix and went ahead to grow and keep the tissues alive. The process was initiated devoid of her knowledge, Lacks’ consent and also without the knowledge of her family. After her demise, her cells normally considered as the Helacells were utilized for scientific research purposes. They contributed to the making of several vaccines and in initiating other medicinal advancements. As a result, both Henrietta Lacks and her family were ultimately manipulated as a result of certain aspects. They include race, social and economic status. In the New York Times greatest retailer The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a renowned author, Rebecca Skloot presents vital subjects concerning sciences, integrity, races and status. In addition, she achieves this without the exploitation of Henrietta Lack’s family.

One of the major concerns raised by the author, Rebecca Skloot, is the ethical issue. This aspect revolves around how Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used in conducting research studies devoid of her accord. Moreover, her family was not notified for approximately two decades on how Lacks’ cells were utilized. The writer articulates how it was unethical for members of staff at the John Hopkins hospital made use of the cells without the family or the late Lacks’ consenting to it. According to Skloot, in spite of the numerous lawsuits, the subject is not regarded as an illegitimate affair when tissue samples extracted from patients are used in research studies (317). Rebecca Skloot articulates that individuals have strong sense of ownership in regards to their bodies, including the smallest tissues. Therefore, all through the article, the author sheds more light on the ethical subject on whether medical practitioners should utilize patients’ samples devoid of their consent.

Another aspect articulated in the book is cultural awareness. Rebecca Skloot deliberates on the extraction of Lacks’ cells, raising the question of status. Henrietta Lacks was an American woman of African descent that earned her living through working as a tobacco farmer. According to Skloot, Henrietta Lacks’ was forced to travel to Baltimore as it hosted the only medical facility, John Hopkins hospital that offered treatment to Americans of African descent as per the laws of segregation (318).  Lacks was moved to the “the Colored only” surgery room as she did not have any options. This was attributed to her race since social and racial divide was prevalent in the United States. Using Lacks’ situation, Skloot effectively raised the class issue as treatment was offered based on the color of her skin and social class. Members of staff clearly exploited her as it was difficult to question the doctors’ pronouncements especially if the doctors are white, as seen in Lacks’ case.

Important data was withheld from Lacks’ family by the hospital personnel as a result of racism which was predominant amongst the white personnel and the family. According to mmm, the doctors inquired for permission to conduct an autopsy from Lacks’ husband, Day. However, when contacted over the phone he declined but later agreed to the process when approached at the hospital. Rebecca Skloot distinctively illustrates Day’s vulnerability because of his race and social class as compared to the health practitioners. The main reason for maintaining the stand on conducting an autopsy was attribute to their need to extract more tissue cells from her body.

Being a science journalist, Rebecca Skloot also assess the science aspect in her article. She states that, even though the medical personnel acquired the cells through unethical procedures, they have facilitated more research in the scientific world.  A ration of her cancer cells extracted during an autopsy was dispatched to Dr George Gey’s laboratory. For several decades, Dr Gey, renowned cancer and virus scholar, had been collecting cells in secret from every patient that visited the Johns Hopkins Hospital ailing from cervical cancer. What he later determine was that Lacks’ cervical tissues were unlike any other patients he had ever collected. Mrs. Lacks’ cells reproduced after a duration of about 20 to 24 hours. In addition, Dr George learnt that in contrast to other cells that crashed outside the body, the tissue samples extracted from Henrietta did not perish. Therefore, this made it possible of the surgeon to maintain his study on the causes and cure for cancer. These cells continuously multiplied and the HeLa cell line was determined. In the recent years, consent for health professionals to use a person’s samples or body organs were acquired while disregarding the consent of patients. This happened predominantly in patients in search of health care in medical facilities.  Although Dr George, the preliminary scientist in researching HeLa cell found no interest on the commercialization of the Helacells.  Biotechnology corporations such as Bio Whittaker and Invitrogen gained enormous profits from the sale of the cells from a range of $200 to $20000.


Even though Mrs. Lacks passed on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31, her tissues continue having an impact on the current century. Every patient is entitled to deciding on what should be done to their bodies upon demise. From the case, one understands the narratives impression and how the culpability is disseminated. From the medics who failed to clarify the exact situation of Henrietta’s autopsy, to scientists and biotech establishments who afterwards manipulated Lacks’ family illiteracy on financial compensation. Currently, Lacks’ relatives’ wishes for companies that took part in retailing HeLa cells to honour their antecedent’s name and recognize her influence on scientific research.

Works Cited

Skloot, Rebecca. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Paperbacks, 2017.

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