Henrietta Lacks was a young African American mother of four children, living a peaceful life in Clover, Virginia in the 1950’s. She was diagnosed with a vicious case of cervical cancer and died on October 4th, 1951. Before she died, a surgeon took samples of her tumor without her knowledge or consent for scientific study. Scientist George Gey was attempting to grow cells that had been removed from the human body, but all the samples collected eventually died.
Things changed when he received Henrietta’s tumor cells; unlike other cells, those taken from Henrietta’s tumor reproduced outside of her body long after being removed, creating an entire generation every twenty-four hours. Because Henrietta’s cells, nicknamed "HeLa" cells, never stopped growing and multiplying, they became the first "immortal" human cells outside of the living body. Even today, HeLa cells can be used for experimentation in science labs across the globe and have been part of research that helped develop drugs for treating herpes, leukemia, influenza, Parkinson's disease, and many other medical advances. They are one of the most important medical discoveries ever made and have helped millions of people. But at what cost?
Award-winning science writer Rebecca Skloot tells Henrietta’s story in her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and investigates the impact that this had on her family after her death. Skloot compares the difference between the medical view of HeLa cells and her family’s view of Henrietta’s body. George Gey detached all humanity from Henrietta’s tissues, but when her family found out about this years later, they believed that her soul could not rest. Skloot argues that the scientists had no right taking Henrietta’s cells and reveals the wrongs done against the Lack’s family.
The Lacks family did not find out about how Henrietta’s cells were used until twenty years later. No further information was given to them after she died, leaving them confused and scared. Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, seemed to have struggled with this knowledge the most. Being religious, she believed that her mother’s soul was connected to her body and therefore her cells. She thought that her mother could not "move on" to the next life and that she could still feel everything that was being done to her cells, despite the fact her mother had been dead for years. When the profit-making side of the charade was revealed, her brothers were furious and "convinced that George Gey and Johns Hopkins...