The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Book Response

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot is a shocking story that unfortunately follows a dark trend in American History. Henrietta Lacks was not the first black person to be taken advantage of by doctors or researchers. There is a long history of black people being experimented on without giving proper consent. These people were abused as test subjects for the purposes of scientific breakthroughs. The story reminded me of the syphilis experiments where black men were injected with a deadly disease in order to achieve a scientific breakthrough.

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I found it ironic that Lacks was also untreated for syphilis and other disease that may have lead to her cervical cancer. Regardless of the medical breakthroughs, these men and women’s were unethically taken advantage of because a group of individuals viewed them as lesser than. This story, and others like, are the perfect example of how science without ethics is extremely dangerous. Some may see the story of Henrietta Lacks as a necessary sacrifice, but Skoot does a great job of showing that what happened to Henrietta Lacks was fueled by racism and show what happens when we have science without boundaries.

Skoot is very intentional about showing the reader that the book telling the story of Henrietta Lacks is not a story, but a piecing together of events that led to one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history. More importantly the book shows that despite their mothers cells overcoming medical, racial and class boundaries, the individuals were still kept down by those factors. Skoot included quotes and perspective from Lacks daughter Deborah, and in the beginning of the book Deborah gives her view on what happened to her mother. The reader can tell that Deborah is not well educated and is a product of her environment. The most striking moment in the text to me is in the beginning of the story when Deborah asks the question of if her mother’s cells did so much for medical science, then why couldn’t her or her siblings afford to see a doctor all their lives? I believe that this moment encompasses the major conflict and purpose in telling the story of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks and her children were left behind while her cells went on to do amazing things for science. This shows that the doctors, surgeons and researchers cared more about the cells than they did the people they were stealing them from. The purpose of this book was to right a wrong. The author gives a detailed look at the life events of Lacks that were ignored and deemed irrelevant by those who admired the research. This work of nonfiction sheds a light on the extent of injustices done to Lacks and her family. I was shocked that it took the world 37 years to learn about the human sacrifice behind HeLa Cells.

I think that Skoot’s position when writing this book was honest and organic. Skoot made the reader aware from the beginning of why she felt the need to tell this story and how it came about. This book did not come across to me as biased but instead seemed like the authors best effort at making a larger point. I think the author was successful in her delivery of the story of Henrietta Lacks and included a good mixture of science and human perspective. In my opinion the author did not make any points that were problematic. I think her intentions of telling this story were made clear and presented with her overall goal in mind. People deserve to hear the story of Lacks and what happened to her. My overall assessment of this book is that it is a story that deserved to be told. I believe this story follows the theoretical perspective from the article “Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: evidence and interventions.” Specifically I think this book sheds light on structural racism in health care. The injustices that happened to Lacks were a direct result of the environment she was in. She had to drive over 20 miles to get to Hopkins where she was still separated from the Whites for treatment. Her entire life she did not have access to care or treatment because she, like many minorities, were distrustful of doctors and could not afford proper treatment.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Book Response. (2020, Mar 27). Retrieved from