Imagine this- your family is struggling with monetary issues, you can feel your health quickly declining, and then scientists take your cells without consent and are making a huge profit out of your own cells. In the novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, written by Rebecca Skloot, an African American woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks, had her cancerous tissue taken without her approval. These cells were studied by a John Hopkins gynecologist and were found to have the ability to multiply and live outside of her body. Henrietta’s cells (known as HeLa cells) created a huge profit for scientists because they multiplied indefinitely and were able to survive outside of her body. Unfortunately, Henrietta passed away at thirty-one years old. Her husband’s cousin and his wife moved in to take care of Henrietta’s young children; the couple ended up being very abusive to them. Her children later discovered that her mother’s cells were being studied and had made lots of profit for scientists, while her and her family were struggling in poverty.
I thought that this story was very well-written because it discusses important scientific content, while building an emotional connection between all the characters. An important theme highlighted in this novel is ethical issues regarding science. Since I share a love for science myself, I completely see why the scientist from John Hopkins wanted to take her cells…his motive could have been understanding the potential for a scientific breakthrough, possibly finding a cure for Henrietta, or even pure curiosity. The medical community greatly benefitted from knowledge about HeLa cells, however, it was very unethical for him to research the cancerous tissue without Henrietta, or her family’s, consent. Furthermore, the Lacks family is struggling to even find money to see a doctor, while scientists are profiting out of their wife/mother’s cells. In contemporary times, I am glad that it is very important and necessary that proper consent is required before scientists do any research using a sample from a human.
Overall, I personally really enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to anyone, science lover or not! Skloot does an amazing job and keeping the plot fascinating and makes you feel sympathy for the Lacks family. I suggest you read this book!!