Reflection on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
The author’s main objective for writing “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is to convey to readers a message of self-acceptance and perseverance to change the narrative surrounding mental illness. Henrietta Lacks is foremost a physical, not a mental illness. The author argues that we cannot identify the root cause because it is difficult to know if poor treatment was deliberate or accidental or if it arose from ignorance and misunderstanding (Skloot, 2017).
The author hopes that in recognizing this lack, we can act as allies toward those living with depression by acknowledging our limitations and learning how to manage them, not to reify stigmatization. Henrietta Lacks’ story illustrates how medical research has benefited from access to the bodies of poor, uneducated African-Americans. While Henrietta Lacks was marginalized by race, she became a model example of perseverance in the face of hardship. The author feels that this story should be told with honesty and open-mindedness.
In exploring what defines illness, stigma, identity and memory, Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” tells the tale of an African-American woman whose life was cut short but who continues to live on in science labs forever. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman from Baltimore. She eventually became the choice model for research on cancer cells and tumour cultures, but her story is complicated. Her mother, uncle, and daughter died of cancer, but she didn’t. As an infant, she was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, which was then cured by removing her cervix (removal of or damage to the neck of the uterus). Unknown to any doctor, she later developed a rare form of cancer that spread rapidly and caused her death in 1951 at age 31. Not long after her death, cells taken from her body by doctors at Johns Hopkins University were found to be perfect in every way for experimentation (Skloot, 2017).
The main themes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks include race, medical ethics, and family relationships (Gan, & Tsai, 2020). Because Henrietta Lacks had a difficult life, it was not surprising that so many different people were outraged by her story and felt that her suffering was therapeutically unnecessary. Her mother and uncle died of cancer as well. Rebecca Skloot, who does not identify with the African-American community, decided to become a writer after she read about Henrietta Lacks in the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. She quickly developed an interest in the woman’s story. She learned more about cancer cells and the influx of money into science research around Henrietta’s cells (which were worth millions) (Skloot, 2017).
The main reason why this book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been assigned for this public health course is that it talks about medical ethics, which is a significant concept in this course. With reference to the assigned book, the main theme of this book is the total disregard for Henrietta’s right to know her history. Although Henrietta had remained very loyal to the Johns Hopkins Hospital and her family, her son and husband had failed to keep in contact with her for sixteen years after she underwent a biopsy procedure. Another theme of this book is that it shows how unethical research can lead to unethical actions and unethical results.
I believe that this book will be beneficial in understanding significant concepts that are vital in this public health course. The text is full of morals that the students need to understand, especially those in the health care field. The book also shows how important it is for one to have sufficient knowledge and a clear understanding of their rights as an individual and as a patient. The authors of this book lacked the required knowledge and awareness of Henrietta’s fundamental human rights.
I believe that there are several points made in this book. The first point I feel strongly about is that individuals should always be aware of their bodies, what goes on inside them, and how they function. One of the most notable points is that her body had a lot of cells with no nucleus. The way they are formed is not precisely stated, but it is hinted that they were formed mysteriously. The cells do not have a nucleus, which means they can survive without feeding off living cells or other elements. They do not possess mitochondria, which are small tubes found in every cell that function for energy production and digestion. There are many more cells in the body than the human eye can see, and each cell has its responsibilities. Henrietta was able to donate her cells for medical research without any problem as long as she gave consent.
When reading this book, various emotions arose, from anger to empathy. Anger because Henrietta’s family was never told of the cells and profits being made from their mother’s cells for years before she died. They only discovered this information when it was too late after the Lacks sisters started digging up documents that belonged to Henrietta and knew that doctors had been collecting her cells without consent or awareness.
There are many instances in which I felt empathy towards Henrietta and her family. Because of the hospital where Henrietta died, doctors and employees at the hospital had access to her cells and did not have consent. So, when reading about Dr Alice Fisher, who was a pathologist at the hospital, punishing Sarah Lacks with a heavy fine for refusing to remove the 16 months’ worth of Henrietta’s cells from her body because they were “irrelevant” to her research on cancer cells in general, readers will be angered by how much one was used without knowledge or permission. It makes me angry that these doctors and employees had close connections with Henrietta’s family before they even knew she was an innocent victim of this experiment, which didn’t affect anyone besides these wealthy doctors anyway (Skloot, 2017).
The main information that I learned from this book puts the perspective on inequality in society. More than that, it shows the life of Henrietta Lacks as a disabled person and how she can’t understand what is going on to her. It does not mean that she is ignorant, but we are limited in understanding this woman because we would not be able to experience what it feels like to be her. This book will shed light on the inequality that people like Henrietta Lacks face.
The information that I found most fascinating when reading this book was how the woman’s cells, Henrietta Lacks, were taken without her consent and then used for scientific research. Her cells became a part of so many people who are alive today, and the way the book was written was interesting because it included some parts from different perspectives of different people. This book also gave an in-depth look at how cell cultures are taken from patients during surgery. I found this very interesting because normally, these procedures are done without knowing what will happen after she is gone. I think that this book is extremely insightful into what has happened in regards to Henrietta Lacks and what could potentially happen in the future when there is more research done on DNA sequencing or making use of human tissue samples without consent.
In conclusion, the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is insightful and beneficial to anyone studying a public health course. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an interesting read that I would recommend for anyone looking to learn more about medical ethics. The book presents an informative and detailed history of beneficial growth cells. The book is written by Rebecca Skloot, which makes it very interesting because a nonfiction writer writes it. I think the author uses a lot of source documentation to provide the reader with trustworthy and reliable facts. Individuals should always be aware of their bodies, what goes on inside them, and how they function.
Gan, Z., & Tsai, R. C. H. (2020, June). Entanglement of Racism and Medical Ethics: Cee’s Illness and Healing in Toni Morrison’s Home. In Forum for World Literature Studies (Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 230-252). Wuhan Guoyang Union Culture & Education Company.
Skloot, R. (2017). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Paperbacks.