Horryfying Expirements on Human in Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Table of Contents

  • Individual Characteristics
  • Impact of Privilege on Henrietta’s Life
  • Role Of Stereotypes in the Health Community
  • Medical Interventions Achieved Through Henrietta’s Cells
  • Health Disparity, Race and Intersectionality Characteristics
  • Impact on the Student
  • Conclusion

When a journalist Rebecca Skloot discovers that Henrietta Lacks cancer cells were harvested to be used for a scientific experiment, she becomes obsessed with her, and she wants to know more about her background. What she doesn’t know is that the family of the late Henrietta carries a lot of emotional baggage. Is she ready to take all that? She is a determined journalist. She goes on a journey to dig the past of the Henrietta Lacks. While tracing the lineage of Henrietta, she discovers a key figure in the quest; Henrietta’s daughter. Rebecca narrates about the several hospital visits that Henrietta underwent before finally being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Rebecca tells of the research that was being conducted in 1950s. The doctors during this period were trying to create an immortal cell line that would be generated from the human body. It was not successful. Rebecca discovers that body cells were taken from Henrietta without her consent. The cells continue to flourish with the health of Henrietta declining.

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The journalist continues with her quest by trying to contact the Lacks. But the Lack’s are living in fear of exploitation, so they are adamant at first. They are later convinced when Rebecca is helped by Professor Roland to reach out to them. Therefore Rebecca begins talking with Deborah, the daughter more often. When Rebecca travels to meet the Lacks they somehow resist. Even on agreeing to meet her later, the journalist is trying to win their trust. Rebecca narrates of how the five children were left under the care of the abusive cousin. After years, Henrietta’s children grow and begin having children of their own. The hospitals still want the blood tissues of Henrietta’s daughter. But Deborah cannot give it to them because she believes they want to test; she will end up like her mother. Rebecca learns of the medical problems that Deborah was suffering from and her eagerness to understand how her mother passed away.

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks can be described as a sad story that has a good ending. Henrietta is an uneducated black woman who has no say on her health. She follows the instructions of the doctors, and she believes she will get healed. Without her knowledge the doctors take her cancer cells; the process is painful physically and psychologically. They later use to benefit themselves. Hopkins Hospitals is said to struggle with racism during the years. The doctors do not believe that Henrietta can understand their decisions, so they do not inform her of the decisions they make. Controversy in the health history is discussed. Later the researchers use the cells to receive recognitions and awards. The person behind the success of the research was barely recognized. The worst thing, the researchers did not inform the family on the research and pay them for the contribution of their mother’s cells to research. Due to these controversies, Henrietta’s lineage became traumatized instead of being proud of their mother’s “immortality.”

Individual Characteristics

Every character in the immortal life of has played a great role in weaving the story and helping Rebecca reveal the lineage of Henrietta and the controversies that were associated with her healthy life. The characters give the reader a scarce perspective of how the family was misinformed and lack of ethics in medical research. Rebecca Skloot, the journalist is the narrator of the story. She takes it upon herself to dig into the story of Henrietta without expecting benefits. She arranges to travel and meet the Lacks; even when they are in a difficult period. Several times she tries to contact them, and they reject. It is hard to convince the Lacks she does not want to profit from the work. She eventually does. Without Rebecca Skloot there would be no story. The unethical medical conducts would remain unknown. The contribution of Henrietta in scientific history would remain unknown. It is through the journalist that the lineage of Henrietta is known to the reader (Skloot, 2010).

Henrietta Lacks is the star of the story. Without her, there would be no story to tell. She is the woman who goes through all the troubles in the story. The doctors do not inform her of the medical procedures because they believe she cannot understand. It is sad that even when she believes that she will get well, she does not survive. Her health gets worse every day. She is said to live in agony. The doctors later reveal to her that the tumor was incurable. She later dies. She is the hero whose cells are later used to create an immortal line of cells referred to as Hela cells (Skloot, 2010). It is because of her cells the research doctors get recognized and awarded. She produces a great lineage which is later relieved even though they go through a tough period. The daughter of Henrietta also plays a crucial role in the story. She is the person that aids the journalist to do more research on Henrietta. She makes available Henrietta’s medical records, and she gives the story a happy ending (100-122).

Impact of Privilege on Henrietta’s Life

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks is a sad story of the underprivileged Henrietta that went through agony in most of her life. Henrietta is a poor black woman that is not educated well. Her lack of education makes her underprivileged in her healthy life. Also her black race would be the cause of being ignored by the doctors. Hopkins hospital is said to have a lot of racism back in the years. The doctors have an arrogant attitude towards Henrietta. They do not inform her of the cancer cells they take from her body. The attitude can be attributed to her low and social-economic status. The doctors were white. They did not believe she could understand what was going on. The attitude continued even after Henrietta’s death. The research team did not inform the family of the research they were carrying out. The family was not also compensated for the contribution of their mother’s cells. Sanchez says that the family did not even have health insurance (2018). The research community failed to inform the family because they did not feel the need to include the poor black families in huge research. Worse, some exorcists tried to take advantage of the family believing they were uneducated or stupid.

Role Of Stereotypes in the Health Community

While Rebecca emphasizes that the doctors did everything to relieve Henrietta off her pain, the story is a reminder of how race can affect the medical treatment of a patient. However Rebecca Skloot mentions that Henrietta going to Hopkins hospital was a miracle. T was like her going into a foreign land. Hopkins hospital was believed to be for the rich people who were the white. Later when the cancer treatment was found, it was difficult to treat the disease. One of the reasons is that the black families were poor and they could not afford treatment. They had less access to proper medical facilities. The reader does not actually know whether Henrietta’s race affected her treatment at Hopkins hospital. All the reader knows is there were stereotypes that the black were uneducated (Sanchez, 2018). This is what made the doctors not to tell Henrietta of the medical procedures they were doing on her. There is a lot of irony in the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca explains how the Hela cells were in the Tuskegee institute to save millions of white Americans; most of them were white (Skloot, 2010, page 97). The cells of the black people believed to be of low social status were used to cure the important people.

Medical Interventions Achieved Through Henrietta’s Cells

Henrietta Lack is referred to as the mother of cancer in modern medicine. But it is around the ethical controversy of her cells that contribute to fame. Hela cells have been known to be responsible for huge advancement in the medical history. They were the first immortal cells to be discovered, and they underwent various exposures to toxins and infections. They were tested in various drugs and radiation (Lantos, 2016). During 1980’s the research bore fruits. The cells were found to contain HPV virus; the knowledge helped in the development of HPV vaccines. Because of the understanding of Hela cells, scientists now understand why the other cells can stay young even with time. The cells also helped to make polio vaccines available earlier. Only Hela cells were susceptible to the virus. During 1960s Hela cells were used in a procedure of fusing human cells with mouse cells. The procedure helped in the field of gene mapping. The cells have also been tested with various diseases like measles, HIV, Herpes (Lantos, 2016).

Health Disparity, Race and Intersectionality Characteristics

A person cannot be rated by what they have achieved materially. Successful people depend greatly on a deal opportunity which many don't have. Black slaves have contributed majorly, though not willingly or rewarding to the economy of the united state. African American slaves worked mostly in tobacco plantations. Henrietta lacks being an African American used to work in the tobacco plantation. Later on, Henrietta lacks' husband stepped out of her and she was later diagnosed with STD. As a result, Lacks' child was born mentally handicapped. In 1951, Henrietta was found to have cancer cells that caused cervical cancer. These cells were used as samples by researchers, Lacks' cells spread very fast and within a year she was dead. However, Henrietta cells become an amazing discovery, the doctor at John Hopkins started spreading the cells without the owners' family compensation. Being a slave, the researchers didn't bother to request authorization from Henrietta to spread the cell (Phillips, 2019). No one even from her family, neither her poor and literate children knew about Lacks' cell that made millions of dollars

The poor lady's cell was used to test the polio vaccine which was used by researchers all over the globe. Also, her cells were sent to outer space and subjected to nuclear tests cited in thousands of medical research papers. Henrietta cells have defined the future to the human. Everyone living in the globe has benefit in one way or another with the research conducted using these cells. However, Henrietta families have been just the providers for the role materials. Her children have been ruled to donate tissue and blood to further the research. This poor girl was a very important person in the world, yet her family lived poor and in bad condition. Sometimes her child would ask 'why can't we get a medical cover yet my mum is an important person in the world.' Her body tissues were used to find polio vaccine, in cell transplant, genes mapping and discovering effects of an atomic bomb. All these industries made millions of many, and no one made an effort of giving back to the family of the poor black American (Phillips, 2019).

The immortal life of Henrietta is about the injustice and racism practiced by the researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. It is ironical how Henrietta's family can be poor after Henrietta cells have been used to discover medication. Sometimes, it's not about research, but humanity and social welfare to your fellow human, humans were all created by the same God. Black Americans were treated ruthlessly by their counterparts, sometimes, by using them for material gain. Some experience forced sterilization, patients being ejected with Henrietta's cell without their knowledge. There are injustice and racism to the black Americans which Henrietta's family also experienced. Henrietta's family had to deal with anger, disbelief and some bit of betrayal because some people have made money with Henrietta's body tissues without their consent or medical cover. Skloot, however, started a foundation to help the family get education, medication and be financially stable. As that was not enough yet, Skloot helped to spread the information all over the globe so that the family can acquire justice (2010).

Impact on the Student

The book is so educative, to a student in any field. Nowadays there is a big percentage of people who are after material gains. They don't care how others will feel, or the impact to anyone. In the case of Henrietta, doctors are using her to make millions of money without her family consideration or care. It is unethical to carry out a research without the informed consent of the patient. Informed consent is one major theme that is used in the story. It was not okay for the doctors not to tell her of the medical procedures being done to her. Critics say that biomedical ethics had not been codified during that time. However, the research team did not also come clean to the family years later when carrying out research with cells. In any organization, there is a code of ethics and rules that protects every human being and should be followed. This book can be recommended to a student so that they can increase their level of integrity and code of ethics, especially at work. In the world of the 21st century, people care less about the well being their fellow human beings.

The book is, therefore, great encouragement in the 21st century. Lacks was also diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection that later causes cervical cancer. Therefore the youths who are students should be careful of the people they trust. It not good to be so quick to trust people we have not to spend much time together as well as knowing each other deeper. Henrietta was diagnosed with STD unknowingly by sleeping with her husband. Racism and discrimination are other key factors that have been discussed in this book that every student should understand. Rebecca was very stubborn in revealing the structural racism that existed in that period. 'We all black and white and everything else—this isn't a race thing. There are two sides to the story, and that's what we want to bring out” (250). However Rebecca insists on the importance of oneness.

Human beings are equal; without considering financial resources. Every human should respect his fellow human. Black Americans have experienced brutal slavery by working on farms until odd hours. Some are even denied medical insurance. Some humans are dying like hogs with no treatment, the case of Henrietta. Every human being is entitled to medication.

It's the right of every patient to demand proper treatment. It's the duty of every doctor also to provide medication to patients without discrimination or material gain. It's so unfortunate that some don't consider that. Additionally, if anyone gets a chance to be a powerful person, they should help those who in a dire situation. As the author did, every person should be the change to any bad behavior exercised by those in power. This may be by using the talents, by using the skills or showing change by influencing others. The book would be highly recommended to students in any field; the book has lessons that any student can learn to change their lives.


The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks is a book that proves that classism, sexism, and racism are still in America. The sad story of Henrietta is proof that there are several classes of people in the country; uneducated, educated, rich, poor, black, white and so many other classes. Clearly, the author of the story, Rebecca is trying to fight the classes which are deemed the enemies of progress. The family of Henrietta has lived in tragedy. Thanks to Rebecca who unites them and gives them peace. The book is a reminder that any person can make a difference. A journalist made a difference in history by passionately digging into a story. The uneducated poor black woman who was of low-status today has saved millions of lives through her cells. We all can make a difference.

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