The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Book Review

Written as a biography that documents the life of a poor tobacco farmer living in the small town of Clover,VA and her long struggle with cervical cancer, Rebecca Skloot’s award winning book entitled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating story that chronicles how Henrietta’s memory becomes forever immortalized as her cells are used in the discovery of critical medical advances, long after her passing. Born Loretta Pleasant, a descendant of freed slaves, married to an unfaithful husband, and a mother of five, Henrietta Lacks lived in the era of the Jim Crow laws; state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965 that mandated laws of racial segregation in all public facilities (Franklin and Higginbotham, p. 261). Henrietta received free treatment at the John Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. While it was considered one of the top in the country at the time, it was also the only one near her that treated black patients (Skloot, p. 15). Living in this era also meant that scientists of the time considered it fair to conduct research on patients in public wards since they were being treated for free. Over the course of her treatments, scientists cultured Henrietta’s tumor cells without her consent or permission from her family, and created a human cell line that would live indefinitely. The fact that these cells would not die because they had elevated amounts of an enzyme that keeps them from aging, made them invaluable. This was pivotal in the attempts to eradicate certain diseases as it enabled numerous experimentations. These experimentations led to discoveries that would change the face of science and medicine forever. In honor of Henrietta, the cells became known as HeLa cells and yielded many medical miracles. During her research, Skloot discovered that Henrietta’s family did not learn of Henrietta’s “immortality” until more than twenty years after her...
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