The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which forms part of Rebecca Skloot’s works, is a detailed description of science. It talks about racial politics that are related to medicine and health interventions. It gives a highlight of Lacks family’s difficult experiences by explaining the story of Henrietta Lacks about the immortal cells called HeLa in the book (Nutting, 2010, Para. 1).
In addition, the book inter-relates ethical issues about medicinal research and science writings. As a further description of the concern of the book, this short paper describes ethical issues relating to collection of Henrietta cells by a doctor without her knowledge or consent.
More often, science provides a record of facts. However, Skloot’s book goes further than this to give bold, deep, and glorious and yet brave revelations. Margonelli (2010) posits, “Skloot confronts the spookiness of the cells themselves, intrepidly crossing into the spiritual plane on which the family has come to understand their mother’s continued presence in the world” (p.17).
From one view, it is clear that Lacks gave no permission for doctors to collect and tissue culture her cells. When Skloot called Baltimore in search of Lacks’ widower, the immediate recipient of her call yelled, “Get Pop, lady’s on the phone about his wife’s cells” (Skloot, 2010, p.52).
Skloot was later to learn that any call that arrived at the widower’s house was merely an inquiry call about Lacks’ cells. Despite Henrietta’s cells becoming essential for the development of medicinal research on cervix cancer, ethical issues arise since her family feels cheated by John Hopkins. The family they claim that the facility has made much profit out of Lacks’ cells.
Skloot’s work in a big way looks into the emotional and ethical issues relating to the collection of Lacks’ cells without her approval. This places questions about the relationship between the law and ethics in relation to tissue culture. The ability of the Media to influence such relationships is also questioned. In this end, Skloot (2010) explains, “inadvertently careless journalists and researchers violated the family’s privacy by publishing everything from Henrietta’s medical records to the family’s genetic information” (p.118).
However, even though one can treat this as Skloot’s opinion, the scientific researches attract big ethical debates. Deporah, Henrietta’s daughter perhaps well exemplifies these concerns when she claims, “Truth be told, I cannot get mad at science,…But I will not lie, I would like some health insurance so I do not get to pay all that money every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make” (Skloot, 2010, p.198).
Additionally, Deborah experiences lifelong struggles trying to understand both the existence of her mother’s cells and science, which facilitated their existence. This shows that she undergoes some emotional turmoil attributed to medical research discoveries such as tissue culture (Nutting, 2010, Para. 2).
Conclusively, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is more than the expression of Henrietta’s family struggles with emotional and ethical concerns of science. It also questions the ability of science to neglect messy and careless human ability to provide materials used in scientific research.
Nevertheless, on the other side, scientists will argue that Henrietta cells are not supposed to be related to Henrietta, the person from whom they were obtained. To scientists, this would make science easier to do. Perhaps this also justifies why the doctor took cells out of Henrietta without her permission to do tissue culture on them.
Margonelli, L. (2010). Eternal life. The network times book review, 1(1), 16-17.
Nutting, L. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks: review. Retrieved from
Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway, Manhattan: Crown Press.