The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a book which describes the life of a black woman who lived in the United States. It describes a woman who developed cancerous tumor that mysteriously finds it’s significance in the medical field. The book depicts a young woman who suffers from cervical cancer, unknown to her that it would cost her life. Her tragic story ends with a widowed husband and five children who survive without their mother. The book highlights that the medical practitioners approached Lack’s family with the desire to buy the cells extracted from her cancerous tumor (Skloot, 2017). The family declines but discovers much later that Henrietta’s cells are distributed in laboratories across the world. As a personal opinion, the book is exposing ethical issues surrounding the medical field. There are medics who move extra miles to enrich themselves using samples from innocent patients without their knowledge. This paper highlights what I liked and disliked about the book and how research was utilized therein.

There are quite a number of issues raised in the book that I find fascinating. The book depicts how important each person is in the world. Henrietta’s cells extracted from her cervix have revolutionized the world of medicine to date. Doctors are able to come up with treatments for various ailments courtesy of the poor woman’s cells from her tumor (Skloot, 2017). I also find the book interesting because in spite of rampant racism in the United States by then, a white gynecologist attends to a poor African American woman who although in pain, she is still positive in life. The doctor examines her in a colored-only exam room. To add on these, it is exciting to find out that no one of Henrietta’s family could visit Hopkins hospital without passing by Jesus’ statue at the hospital to say prayers. This is a family built on Christian values and is committed to saying prayers to God to heal them of their ailments. Worth noting, doctors cast behind them their racism and extract cells from the cervix of a black woman which they develop treatment for ailments like leukemia and gene mapping. Generally the book describes a person who in her human incapacitation plays a significant role in the medical field.

On the other hand, reading this book makes me dislike part of it basing on several factors. First, there were racist doctors who had no interest in treating blacks but later came to benefit from cell extracts from a black patient. As a surprise to me too, Henrietta’s cells are extracted from her cervix, they are researched on without the family’s consent. The cells enrich the medical practitioners at the expense of the family which cannot afford medical insurance in the United States (Skloot, 2017). It is also quite insulting to the Lacks’ family considering that the medical practitioners benefited so much from their mother’s cells. However, they are still researching on them to find out more about Henrietta’s cells. It is also important to note that it is not pleasing to find out that Henrietta was ailing painfully but she kept it a secret to herself until when she was close to her point of death. I also do not like the fact that the researchers are exposing Lacks’ family to the memories of their mother whose demise they have not come to terms with, more so her daughter Deborah Lack.

In this book, the research was utilized to develop medicine to combat a number of ailments such as leukemia, influenza, hemophilia and Parkinson’s disease. The research has also been used to identify genes that cause cancer and those that suppress it. The research was also used to ascertain the possibility of human cells reproducing more outside the body and whether they could survive longer. The research raises ethical issues. Relating to it, I find it quite noting that researchers use human samples to carry out their research. However, once they break through they do not benefit those whose samples were taken from. On the other hand, medics take human samples without the consent of the donor, something I find prudent to oppose.

In summary, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is book that describes the secret behind the success of the modern day medicine. Most treatments of a number of ailments are traced back to the cells extracted from a young woman named Henrietta. Researchers developed medicines which are today used to combat diseases. It is fascinating to learn that cells which were removed from the said woman have turned out be a blessing to the whole world because medics are able to save lives of millions basing on these cells. On the other hand, researchers ought to have found a way of rewarding Henrietta’s family following the success of their research on their mother’s cells. It is unfortunate that her family can not afford a medical insurance when their mother’s cells are the myth behind success story of medicine.  


Skloot, R. (2017). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition). Broadway Books.

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