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This paper is the book report of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks written byRebecca Skloot in 2010. The extraordinarily account of Henrietta’s living, cells and relatives are coming to light, narrated in the equally extraordinary book. Skloot is the veteran science reporter and first-time author and this debut is exciting and original non-fiction, which opposes to be pressed into anything as minor as a genre. It is equivalent parts popular historical biography, science, and the detective novel. It reads as persuasively and forcefully as any work of fiction, with characters, dialogue and settings vividly recreated from archived material, lawful documents and long hours of dialogues. Like the mystery, the chronology shifts back and forth from the initial and final days of Henrietta’s existence, the decades of detection that followed her demise and Skloot’s own contemporary quest to uncover the entire account. This book, describes as "science - cultural studies," has to be considered the work of the US history. It is a skillfully crafted research of the social mistake committed by the medicinal establishment, as well as the medical and scientific wonders to which it led. Skloot's empathetic story may be the primary step toward acknowledgment, justice and curing.


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In her book, Rebecca Skloot takes the readers on an incredible journey, from the “black” area of Johns Hopkins Hospital to white labs with freezers filled HeLa cells. Over ten years it took to uncover this account, Rebecca became involved in the lives of the Lacks relatives - particularly Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was distressed to discover about her parent’s cells. She was consumed with inquiries: Had scientists cloned her parent? Did it hurt her when scientists infected the cells with viruses? What was the destiny of her sister, Elsie, who passed away in the mental establishment at the age of 15? And if Henriettawas so significant to medicine, why could not her children have health insurance?

In the year 1951, Henrietta Lacks was energetic, 31-year-old African-American parent of five children, initially from tobacco plantations of Virginia, but living in Baltimore. She was treated for an unusually dangerous case of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins clinic in Baltimore. Doctors could do little to help Henrietta Lacks. They offered her extremely brutal radiation treatments, which turned cheerful female into terribly distressed person. She passed away an agonizing death and was buried in unmarked grave close to her mother's headstone.

Though, before applying radium for the initial time, the doctor cut two small samples of tissue - cancerous and healthy - from Lacks's body. However, it should be mentioned that today only the cancer cells live (Skloot 264-265). Nobody asked consent or even informed the patient. The doctor provided the samples to George Gey, a researcher who had been attempting to create the immortal cell line for usage in cancer research. Consistent with the protocol, the lab assistant used the abbreviation of Henrietta’s name, "HeLa", on all sample tubes. HeLa was successful where all other tissue samples had failed. For many years, scientists had attempted unsuccessfully to grow living human cells, which could be later utilized to standardize the medical testing. With tissue from Lacks, doctors hit the huge jackpot. Not merely did her cells survive, they accomplished the level earlier unseen, becoming the initial immortal human cells. These cells became the construction blocks for numerous medicine's utmost accomplishments. After Henrietta Lacks’s demise, HeLa went viral, becoming godmother of virology and biotech, benefiting almost anybody who has ever taken a medication stronger than aspirin. Scientists have made some fifty million metric tons of Lacks’s cells. HeLa has assisted in building thousands of careers, more than 60,000 scientific researchers, with approximately ten more being issued daily, exposing the secrets of everything from mosquito mating and cancer to aging. But who was the lady the cells initially came from? And what did her relatives think about Henrietta's odd immortality?

In fact, for many years, HeLa donor's personality was a secret, but in the 1970s, provoked by journalists’ inquiries, Henrietta's name was slowly exposed. Amazingly, this was the initial time Lacks' children and husband had ever heard of HeLa cells. Skloot depicts the amazing account of those cells and what they have actually meant to medicine, whilst also painting the lively portrait of Henrietta’s family, fighting to come to terms with Henrietta's demise, her inheritance and their own anger and suspicions.

In the book, the author introduces the booklovers to the real woman, her children, and interchange of poverty, science, race and one of the most significant medicinal findings of the last century. Skloot describes the science clearly and tells the Lacks family’s painful story with grace. She boldly crosses into spiritual plane on which Henrietta’srelatives have acknowledged their mother’s continual presence in the globe.

As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly demonstrates, the account of the Lacks family is inextricably linked to the sad history of testing on African Americans and the lawful struggles over whether people control the stuff they are made of. Mrs. Lacks had one more daughter, Elsie, who was mute and deaf and possibly insane. Elsie was taken to Maryland’s Crownsville State Hospital, previously recognized as Hospital for the Negro Insane, and passed away at 15 (Skloot 270-276). Thus, the most shocking moment in the book comes when Rebecca Skloot, together with Deborah, discovers a grim photo of Elsie in the clinic’s records and discovers some of the terrors of what living there must have been like.

Furthermore, Skloot traces dissimilar events, for instance, the well-known Tuskegee syphilis research, in which poor black people with syphilis were recruited and then permitted to pass away terrible and totally preventable deaths, whilst doctors and researchers lied to them and maintained penicillin away from them. Book’s author makes it plentifully obvious why, when Lacks’s relatives discovered that her cells were still existing, the pictures, which crossed their minds were right out of science-fiction scary films.

But this book is far more than a mere depiction of Lacks family. It is also the critique of science, which insists on neglecting the messy human origin of the materials. Scientists never think of HeLa cells as being parts of Henrietta as it is far simpler to do science when you distance the materials from the human beings they come from (Skloot 29-30).

In 1951, it was not against the law for scientists to obtain Henrietta’s cells for investigation without permission. When the book was issued, there was still no obvious law demanding that patients provide permission for the scientific usage of their own tissues. Actually, human tissues are still collected and utilized for investigation with no person’s knowledge.


This book is amazingly laid out to evolve a beautiful, yet educational account. It includes very interesting data on cell reproduction, chromosome mapping, and cell study in general. The data is provided mostly in simple terms making it easy to acknowledge and read. Simultaneously it brings light onto the female who was Henrietta from childhood to beyond her demise with the thorough look on the livings of her children. Rebecca Skloot has done an astonishing job of reporting as mostly neutral party. Several parts feel a bit too dramatized. However, there may be no doubt that Henrietta's relatives suffered greatly, particularly her daughter, Deborah. Their torment is adequately depicted.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is far from comfortable read. It is too easy to picture Henrietta’s burned skin after numerous overwhelming radiation treatments. Readers will finish the book with extremely heavy sigh after getting acquainted with all the experiments black Americans have been subjected to over the years. At the same time, there are some inspiring moments, predominantly the chapter where Henrietta’s children, Zakariyya and Deborah, attend a cancer investigator to see their mother’s cells under microscope.

Skloot is the remarkable writer, dramatic, straightforward, empathetic and persistent in investigating the link between different time periods. Her increasing closeness and commitment to Henrietta's daughter Deborah, as they work together to discover all they can concerning HeLa cells and Henrietta's story of life, is touching, and worth the price of a book alone. The book's story, told without any judgment, contrasts the miracles made in contemporary labs with family members’ faith in spirits and the mother's continuing presence. And then there is the more and more conspicuous contrast among the current medicinal breakthroughs with the fact that, for the most part, Henrietta's children can not afford health insurance to take care of illnesses their mother's cells helped treat.

At times it is obvious that Skloot is sympathetic to Henrietta's relatives. Over ten years spent writing the book, she befriends with Deborah. Simultaneously, the author never denigrates the researchers and doctors. Taking cell samples was (and continues to be) adequate, common practice. One of the inquiries the book reflects is whether patients should have more control over own tissues. On one hand, scientists are earning millions of dollars using the outcomes these tissues make achievable, and the humans from whom these tissues are obtained are not sharing in these proceeds. On the other hand, not enabling physicians to practice this type of tissue sampling would likely have a negative influence of all future medical advances. Skloot is really amazing in presenting the balanced look at these two sides.

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