The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, By Rebecca Skloot

Better Essays
In the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, the author highlights the scientific advances of HeLa cells, as well as the personal setbacks of Henrietta Lacks’ family. HeLa is a commonly used cell line in laboratories worldwide and is so often referred to as “the cell line that changed modern science”. This line of immortal cells has helped advance science in ways beyond compare. HeLa has allowed cell testing, cell cloning, and the discovery of various vaccines, including the HPV vaccine. While HeLa has done wonders in the medical field, it has caused unrepairable damage among the Lacks family.

In the year 1951, Henrietta Lacks had her cells taken, for scientific research, without her knowledge. Henrietta Lacks was
…show more content…
While doctors and scientists were making millions of dollars through HeLa research, Henrietta’s family was living in poverty. Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta’s firstborn child, says, “Hopkins say they gave them cells away, but they made millions! It’s not fair! She’s the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?” (pg.168). Someone who disagrees with this standpoint may argue that scientists had been trying for years to develop the perfect culture medium and had a much more hands on experience with the cells (pg.35), therefore, they should be receiving the earnings from any outcomes the HeLa cells may produce. While the scientists were in fact the brains behind the scientific advances, the family should be acknowledged on behalf of Henrietta Lacks. These successes in science would not have been possible without the origin of the cells: Henrietta Lacks. For some of the family, the primary focus was not even the profit. “Since they gone ahead and taken her cells and they been so important for science, Deborah thought, least they can do is give her credit for it.” (pg. 197). Here, Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s fourth born child, makes it clear that her primary concern is getting her mother the recognition that she deserves for her…show more content…
The initiative wasn’t taken to learn about the family or the origin of the cells. Roland H. Berg, a press officer at the NFIP, sent George Gey, head of tissue-research at John Hopkins, a letter saying, “ An intrinsic part of this story would be to describe how these cells, originally obtained from Henrietta Lakes, are being grown and used for the benefit of mankind” (pg. 106). This letter is a very clear representation of the lack of knowledge from society. Berg referred to Henrietta as “Henrietta Lakes” on multiple occasions in the letter. The correct form of her name wasn’t even known. A name is such a distinct representation of identity and Henrietta’s was so commonly mixed up and misspelled. An opposing view could argue that the scientists’ job was to work with the cells. Their goal was not to learn the family tree of the individual, but to make discoveries using the cells. It wasn’t until the autopsy of Henrietta Lacks, that people started to face reality: HeLa is not just a cell line. HeLa was a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a best friend. Mary Gey, George Gey’s wife and research assistant, viewed Henrietta’s body once it was being used for tests in the autopsy room. She noticed that Henrietta had her toenails painted with a bright red polish. Mrs. Gey said, “When I saw those toenails, I nearly fainted. I
Get Access