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Fall 2015 > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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message 1: by Emma (new)

Emma | 1 comments HeLa cells are well known in the scientific community as "immortal cells" that are able to regenerate indefinitely. They have been used to make countless scientific discoveries including breakthroughs in cancer research, the creation of the polio vaccine, and studying the affects of zero gravity on human cells in space. Until recently, not many people knew the story of the woman, named Henrietta Lacks, from whom the cells were taken. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot uncovers the history surrounding Henrietta Lacks, her remaining family members, HeLa cells, and medical ethics in general.
Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. Her doctor at Johns Hopkins took cells from her tumor to be used for research without her knowledge or permission. During that time period, there were no moral or ethical medical standards that doctors needed to follow. When Skloot interviewed doctors who helped treat Henrietta, she discovered that, "Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment" (Skloot 29). Henrietta died shortly after her diagnosis, but her cells lived on, and are still used in medical research today.
Four of Henrietta's children are still alive today, and when they discovered that their mother's cells were still alive they were confused, upset, and angry. They felt that doctors had taken advantage of their mother and used her cells for their own profit. During an interview, Lawrence, her oldest son, asked Skloot, "She's the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can't we get health insurance?" (Lacks 168). Even after scientists, researchers, and reporters discovered Henrietta's family was still alive, no one took the time to explain to them what exactly their mother's cells were being used for. The book describes Skloot's interaction with the remaining members of the Lacks family and members of Henrietta's community. Skloot became close to Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, in particular, and she helped Deborah understand how her mother's cells are used in scientific research.
I thought this book was well written, interesting, and informative. The issue of medical ethics is discussed in an eye-opening and thought-provoking way. Skloot does a great job of interweaving the historical background of medical ethics with current stories about Henrietta's family. The combination of science, morality, and personal stories is fascinating. This book would be especially interesting to anyone interested in chemistry or the medical field, but I would recommend this book to anyone.

message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Skalka | 2 comments I heard about this originally in AP Bio, but I think I might actually give it a look now. With a recommendation from both my Bio teacher, and a fellow student, I think it might turn out to be a pretty good read. Plus I love biology so if anything I might like the science side of it.

message 3: by Mrs. Raabe (new)

Mrs. Raabe (molly_raabe) | 12 comments I will add the librarian to your recommend list! We have 2 copies in the library with science and technology. It has received numerous awards and several professional reviews. I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you for this review!

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