“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot Essay
Rebecca Skloot wrote an award-winning non-fiction book that was published in 2010. Now, when I say award winning, I mean award winning. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks shattered the public view and rightfully so was the winner of multiple awards. The life of Henrietta Lacks, originally just an afterthought, is brought to light. Where we see a poor African American women from the 1950’s who suffered from cancer but had no knowledge of how hospitals or the health care worked. At John Hopkins hospital, during her cancer treatment and ultimately her death, cells (that became known as HeLa cells) were taken from her unknowingly and were used in countless research labs that generated millions and billions of dollars in the advancement in medicine. Henrietta never received a dime for what her own cells accomplished, and neither did her family. Which the Lacks family continues to question to this day. People wonder, should the Lacks family have received money for what the Henrietta’s cells have done? The answer is whole heartedly one hundred percent yes.
Let us just begin with the fact that they are Henrietta’s cells taken from her own body. It is not like they come from something or someone else. Without Henrietta all that was done with the HeLa cells would not have been possible. The world can just forget about the invaluable new discoveries that were made from the HeLa cells. Money should be provided to the Lacks family, and if Henrietta was alive, money should be provided to her. The Lacks family has struggled for poverty in multiple generations, while the cells of a family member has generated unbelievable amounts of money. In general, it is just the common-sense thing to do.
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Piggybacking off the fact that they are Henrietta’s cells, the Lacks family should get compensated for them. The cells were even taken without the knowledge and consent of Henrietta. “But first-though no one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor-Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue” (Skloot, p33). The doctors performing treatment on Henrietta committed an action that could be criminally charged in court today and would most definitely make them lose their license. Henrietta lacks was a poor African American women who did not understand what was going on, “This was 1951 in Baltimore, segregation was law, and it was understood that black people didn’t question white people’s professional judgment” (Skloot, p63). Doctors who were in a position of power, saw an opportunity and capitalized on it.
Bobbette a current family member of Henrietta in a conversation with Skloot said, “What really would upset Henrietta is the fact that Dr. Gey never told the family anything-we didn’t know nothing about those cells and he didn’t care” (Skloot, p169). The doctors never informed Henrietta of what was going on and they continued the lies and deceit and never told the family what was going. A generationally poor black family was suffering, while piles of money was being made under their noses. Money that was being made because of a family member. The right thing to do, the morally correct thing to do, is to give the Lacks family what they deserve.
Years after the death of Henrietta, medical researchers were wanting more, and using the position of power they had; they even drew blood from other Lacks family members without informing them of what they were doing. “They truly had no idea what was going on, and they really wanted to understand. But doctors just took blood samples without explaining anything and left the family worrying” (Skloot, p192). Throughout countless years of mystery and untruthfulness. Doctors inhumanly wreaked havoc on the Lacks family, all for the greedy individuals that ran our society. Give the poor Lacks family all the money they want, for it is the humane and morally correct thing to do.