Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the year 1951. On her visit to John Hopkins, the doctors took samples of her cervix and went ahead in growing and keeping the tissue alive. This was done without the knowledge nor the consent of Lacks or her family. When she had passed, her cells which came to be known as HeLa cells were used in scientific research which contributed to the development of some vaccines and in other medical advances. Henrietta Lacks and her family were eventually exploited due to their race, social and economic status. In the New York Times bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, author Rebecca Skloot raises important issues regarding sciences, ethics, races, and class. She does this without exploiting Lacks family.
The ethical issue is one of the greatest issues Skloot raises in her book. It concerns how Lacks cells were used for research purposes without her consent and even worse that her family was kept in the dark for over twenty years without the knowledge of how Henriettas cells were being used. The author articulates how it was unethical for the John Hopkins staff to use these cell without the consent of Henrietta or her family. She writes that despite many legal cases concerning the issue being fought, the issue is not considered to be illegal when a sample of tissues from patients are used in researches. The author explains that people feel a strong sense of ownership when it comes to their bodies, even to the smallest tissue (p.317). Thus, throughout her book, the authors has brought to light the ethical issue whether the researchers have the rights to use samples of patients in research without their consent.
. The author brings cultural awareness regarding the historical practices of segregation. She talks about the act of taking Henriettas cells which question the issue of class. Henrietta Lacks was a working African American woman. She had to travel all the way to Baltimore because Johns Hopkins, the only hospital in Baltimore that treated African Americans as per the segregation laws, was based. She was placed in the colored-only operation room where she did not have much of a choice because she was black and the racial and social divide was the order of the day. With this, Skloot raises the issue of class where Lacks was treated according to her color and social standards. She is exploited by the medical staff since it was hard to question the doctors especially when one was black and the doctor was white as in the case of Lacks.
Henriettas family were withheld with important information by the hospital staff mainly because of the racial divide between the predominantly white staff at the hospital and Lacks family. When asked by the doctors the permission of doing an autopsy, Day, Henriettas husband, refused on the phone and was again approached in the hospital where he gave in and allowed them to proceed. The author clearly shows how Day was vulnerable due to his racial status when compared to the doctors. The reason for insisting on the autopsy was that the doctors wanted to take more tissues fro Henriettas body.
As a science journalist herself, the author successfully evaluates the issue of science in her book. The author writes that though HeLa cells were acquired in unethical means, they have contributed immensely to the world of science, HeLa cells were one of the most important things that happened to medicine in the last hundred years, (p.4). George Gey, the surgeon, spent the last three decades working to grow malignant cells outside the body, hoping to use them to find cancers cause and cure (p.30). He had no desire in making profits and even went further to try and protect the privacy of Henrietta Lacks, unlike the multinational medical research and pharmaceutical companies who have commercialized the cells from Henrietta Lacks.
By choosing to read the book, Bunker Hill Community College made a right decision. The students will benefit immensely from the lessons to be learned from the novel. Issues that were there from the past society will give insight to the students on how the society treated different classes of people and how was the relation between the people from different racial and socio-economic divide. The ethical issues discussed in the novel will enable the readers to weigh and judge for themselves the morality of the various matters that are of concern to the humans regarding respect and their dignity. Therefore, I firmly believe that novel was a good choice for the college since it is going to benefit it positively.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was a fascinating book read. The author's novelistic artistry and her zeal of desire to not give though facing many challenges in her bid to research on the instances preceding the book drew me into reading the novel. I would, therefore, recommend it to anyone to read and understand the dilemma in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tale of the progress of a black working-class woman to a complicated story of the interaction between science and human lives.
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