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Book Review: The Immoral Life Of Henrietta Lacks

1325 words - 5 pages

Imagine having a part of your body taken from you without your permission, and then having those cells that are a part of your body grow and are being processed in labs around the world and then ultimately being used for the highest of research. That is what happens to Henrietta Lacks. In the book, The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks, we see Henrietta Lacks and her families story unravel, the numerous hardships that they faced, and the shocking revelation that their relative cells were being used for research without her consent and theirs.
Henrietta Lacks was born on August 18, 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia. She stayed with her grandfather who also took care of her other cousins, one in particular whose name is David (Day) Lacks. As Henrietta grew up, she lived with both her Grandpa Tommy and Day and worked on his farm. Considering how Henrietta and Day were together from their childhood, it was no surprise that they started having kids and soon enough got married. As the years continued, Henrietta noticed that she kept feeling like there was a lump in her womb/cervix and discovered that there was a lump in her cervix. Soon enough, Henrietta went to Johns Hopkins Medical Center to get this check and learned that she had cervical cancer. But here is where the problem arises, Henrietta gave full consent for her cancer treatment at Hopkins, but she never gave consent for the extraction and use of her cells. During her first treatment TeLinde, the doctor treating Henrietta, removed 2 sample tissues: one from her tumor and one from healthy cervical tissue, and then proceeded to treat Henrietta, all the while no one knowing that Hopkins had obtained tissue samples from Henrietta without her consent. These samples were later handed to George Gey, who is in change of all tissue samples coming through Hopkins and learned that Henrietta’s cells were the first human cells to grown and continue to grow in culture. After Henrietta shortly passed away, the HeLa cells, as they were dubbed, exploded in popularity in the scientific field. They are responsible for thousands of scientific papers, they helped us understand various diseases, and even helped with curing some. And all the while, Henrietta’s family had no idea that these cells were being grown and distributed throughout the world until 1973 when her family first learned that Henrietta’s cells were alive. We see how Skloot is in constant contact with the family, in specific Deborah, and how it takes years to gain the families trust to build this powerful and moving book.
Now a days, even if a hospital wants a tissue sample, they must obtain the consent of their patient who is providing the sample, otherwise the doctors and scientists cannot proceed to obtain it. This was not the case with Henrietta Lacks. Yes, she was asked for consent for the treatment, but never for obtaining a tissue sample. Skloot states that, “TeLinde often used patients from the public wards for research, usually without their...

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