Summary of Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack was a wonderful 382 page book written by Rebecca Skloot. It was published by Crown Publishing Group on February 2 2010. One of the overlying themes of the story is dehumanization. The book’s purpose was to inform the public of many moral arguments. Evaluating the book I saw that it put together several arguments and left the public to with the question of whether it was right or not.

The book opens with an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks had just arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital to get a Knot on her womb examined, she had been in pain since she gave birth to her fourth child. She noticed many days earlier that there was a lump on her cervix, afraid that she might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease caused by her husband having multiple affairs Henrietta decided to get examined. Although this took place during the Jim Crow era Johns Hopkins Hospital a charity hospital provided care for colored people but yet still remain segregated.

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When doctor Howard Johns begins to read Lacks charts the reader gets to learn much about her life. The reader learns that she is one out of ten children with a seventh grade education and had many untreated conditions. We also learn that she has a daughter with epilepsy. Doctor Johns proceeded to examine her and noted that he had never seen anything similar to the mass on her cervix. Doctor Johns thus took a biopsy of it and allowed Henrietta to go home.

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Despite the fact the results could not be positive because three months prior the mass on her cervix had not been there and it was currently the size of a nickel.

In the second chapter we get to take a further look into Henrietta’s past. Henrietta Lacks birth name was Loretta Pleasant and was born in Roanoke Virginia. When Henrietta mother died, her father need help taking care of his ten children so he took them back to his hometown. Henrietta’s father splits his children up between his family member and thus is how Henrietta ended up living with her grandfather Tommy Lacks. Tommy lacks was living with Henrietta’s cousin David Lack or “Day” in an old slave shack which was located on a tobacco plantation. Regardless that they grew up poor their grandparents took care of them. When Henrietta went to the market with her grandfather there was a great amount of segregation. White people, farmers were treated to private rooms to sleep while black farmers slept in the basement. As Henrietta grew, she was beginning to become a lovely young lady. Even both her cousins Joe and Day had a crush on her. Soon Henrietta and Joe started dating but eventually left him. As a result Joe tried to end his life. Henrietta got pregnant at age fourteen and gave birth to her first child. Four years later she also have given birth to her second child, a daughter with epilepsy. At age 20 she got married to her cousin Day. During this there was the bombing of Pearl Harbor which caused for people to be working in the steel factories. Some of Henrietta’s Family members moved north.

The book was like a picture into the past. It showed how it was like for African Americans to live during the Jim Crow era. The topics such as dehumanization, medical ethics, separate but equal, racism in medicine and morality were all topics in the book. To me the most interesting part was to read how the book switched perspectives. It was very easy to read and gave the reader simple language to understand while still understand the issues out.

When doctors found out about Henrietta’s cells they saw her as source to get more. Even though in the future the cell were going to be used for further research scientist only saw her a place where to get more cells. Mary Kubicek was a perfect analogy to what was going on. The fact that it took Kubicek to see Henrietta’s toenails to realizes that the cells were a real person was a little irritating to me. The senectice were ignoring the fact that she is human and treated her as a means to get more cells. When scientist were injecting several things and even sending her cells into space Henrietta family did not just see this as simple cells but rather a part of her.

Immortality was another central part of the book. Whether the reader is reading it in a physical perspective or the supernatural perspective she lived on and will keep living on. In the physical perspective Henrietta’s cells were the first cells to be grown in a lab and since her cells did not die once they left the body, they continued to grow which gave them the name of immortal. Henrietta cells are immoral because they have had such a big effect in the advancement in the medical field. She lives in the lives of the doctors and people using the medicine used that came from her cells. She lives in the mind of her family as well, and not only see the cells as cells but a part of her.

When Henrietta went to get her first cancer treatment scientist took her cells without her knowing. The doctors also did not tell her that the treatment for the cancer would leave her infertile.During this time there was no law requiring doctors permission for patients tissue. This was actually common to do so and especially common for poor patients because doctors would see this as far trade. Whether this is medically right and weather the family of henrietta deserves compensation or ownership of the cells are questions asked in the book.

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Summary of Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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