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Writing Assignment #2 – Book Review The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

1215 words - 5 pages

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, written by Rebecca Skloot, was published in 2010. The book is non-fiction and discusses the life of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who developed cervical cancer and passed away in 1951. Although Henrietta passed, her cancer cells remained immortal, were saved by researchers and doctors, and used for numerous studies, medicines, and cancer research. Although the subject of the book is very scientific in nature, Skloot uses very accessible language so that many people can comprehend the issues the book discusses. Skloot retrieved information for the book by spending time with Henrietta’s family, most notably Henrietta’s daughter Deborah who provided Skloot with information in her journal. Skloot also accessed photos and documents to aid in writing her first book on the life of Henrietta Lacks.
Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman from Baltimore, Maryland who was a part of the lower class and therefore was not accepted by many hospitals to treat her cervical cancer. Fortunately, Johns Hopkins offered Lacks free treatment through their public ward, even though this treatment at times may not have been the most meticulous. In January of 1951, doctors discovered the large tumor in Henrietta’s cervix. This was shortly after her daughter, Deborah, was born in 1950. Deborah never truly knew who her mother was as Henrietta passed away in October of 1951. Because the treatments and services offered by the Hopkins doctors were free for Henrietta and other patients, it was expected that their bodies and cases could be used for research and this was their payment.
With this expectation, Henrietta’s cancer cells were contracted and given to Dr. George Gey. Because of the cell’s ability to reproduce very rapidly, Dr. Gey was able to successfully grow Henrietta’s cancer cells outside of her body, the first time this had ever been done. These famous cells were named HeLa cells and were used for research all over the world. Skloot notes that about 50 million metric tons of these cells have been grown and have contributed to the creation of new medications, new jobs, and new scientific studies. Henrietta’s cells have contributed so much to science and health, yet Henrietta and her family have reaped little benefits from the immortal cancer cells.
Skloot showed great interest in the story of Henrietta and sought to articulate the life of Henrietta as well as raise some serious ethical issues about the use of her cells without her consent. The book successfully tells the story of Henrietta, how she grew up in a low-class family on a tobacco farm, and how her immortality has changed the scientific world. Skloot successfully portrays Henrietta and her family by showing the reader who the HeLa cells really are, something that doctors and researchers may not consider when working with the cells.
Some of the things the reader learns about the Lacks family is their current struggle to trust the medical world. Henrietta’s husband...

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