The Lacks family story reveals the history of a woman whose life began in a tobacco farm in rural Virginia and ended in Baltimore. A young Henrietta Lacks was raised by her grandfather and had five children with her cousin. She lived with her grandmother and grandfather, and her mother died when she was just 4.
In the upcoming HBO documentary “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the author tells the incredible story of how one woman’s scientific discovery changed the course of human history. Lacks lived from childhood on a tobacco farm in rural Virginia to the age of 61 when she was diagnosed with melanoma. Lacks’ story is one of the most empowering examples of science writing, and her story is one that will inspire the next generation.
Skloot cites the lacks family as one of the book’s most important sources for the book. Lacks’s daughter, Deborah, gave the author most of the information he used in his book. Lacks-Whye questioned whether the scientists had cloned her mother and killed her to obtain the cells. Skloot cited her as the soul of the book, and her work inspired him for a decade.
Skloot’s portrayal of unquestioned deference
In his portrayal of the unquestioning deference to doctors, Skloot focuses on the effects of this type of behavior on children and adults alike. Lacks’ parents and siblings never learned that the cells they had removed from her body had been used for scientific research until decades after her death, and they never received compensation. Lacks’ name was often mispronounced as Helen Lane, which further obscured her story.
A parallel is drawn between scientists and journalists. Skloot makes a point of cautioning both groups to avoid the mistakes of the past. For example, the journalists, such as Michael Gold, publish Henrietta’s medical records without permission, and their decision does not consider the family’s feelings. While the Lacks children are forced to endure retribution and punishment for questioning their physicians, the unquestioned deference given to scientists is not reflected in the story.
Lacks family’s unethical experimentation
Henrietta Lacks’ unethical experimentation with human cells inspired many medical breakthroughs. Her story was featured on CBS This Morning, where the ethical question surrounding the HeLa cells was discussed. Although the Lacks family never consented to their use in research, they did provide DNA for researchers. Now, there are safeguards in place to prevent unethical research from taking place.
A big part of this unethical experimentation is classism. Many people who are poor and who cannot afford good medical care are used as human experiment subjects. While doctors and researchers may believe they are doing good work by studying a disease, they are actually harming people by denying them proper medications. In addition, the lacks family never consented to use their daughter’s cells, even though she gave her consent.
Skloot’s interview with Deborah Lacks
Rebecca Skloot’s interview with Deb Lacks, a scientist, is a compelling story of how a black, poor, and minimally educated woman came to be the woman who helped save the lives of millions of African-American women. She also provides a rare personal look into the life of a scientist. Deborah Lacks’ five children were horrified and angry when they heard the news about Henrietta Lacks’s experiments on cells. She told Skloot that she would call her again once she left the room and that she would ask for more information.
The book’s publication came after Skloot spent ten years researching the story of Henrietta Lacks, the first black woman in history to have a baby. She delved into the background of HeLa and the impact it had on the Lacks family. It has been on the New York Times best seller list since its publication in February, and Skloot has teamed up with blogger Bethanne Patrick to interview her.
Lacks family’s view of immortality
One of the central themes of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the dehumanization of Henrietta, who’s essentially just a cell. Instead of focusing on the human qualities of her cells, the author reduces Henrietta to her source – the scientists who packaged the cells didn’t even think about her. That, she argues, undermines her family’s view of immortality.
The Lacks family believes in the spiritual immortality of their loved ones. As they talk about their memories of their mother, they also believe that the cells she donated will be immortal. Skloot also comments on this topic, arguing that “the cell’s life and memory are eternal, even if it dies.” Deborah laments that her mother’s cells will never die. She hopes that her mother’s cells will be used to cure disease, but that’s all she’ll ever get from them.
Skloot’s book’s impact on bioethics
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has sparked a slew of debates and questions about bioethics in America. Skloot’s book is part detective story, part scientific odyssey, part family saga, and it raises a host of urgent questions about race and autonomy. As an ethical neophyte, I recommend the book to anyone interested in bioethics.
While Skloot’s book sparked debate about informed consent policies, it has also been praised for raising larger, more complex ethical questions. It is unclear whether the book has had a direct impact on the reshaping of the bioethics discussion, but it has sparked a plethora of news coverage. Even extended interviews on public radio have resulted in rich discussions about bioethics and consent.