The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks review Essay Sample
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks review Essay Sample
In Rebecca Skloot’s (2011) book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Henrietta has been dehumanized on many levels. She was not treated right when she went to Johns Hopkins for her sickness. At that time, the Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of only a few hospitals to treat poor people of color. Otherwise, she would have to go to some other hospital and get better treatment. Even though Johns Hopkins had a special ward for black community members, Henrietta was dehumanized for being a black and poor woman. Johns Hopkins had a service for black women, but they still didn’t provide that service.
Skloot shows how doctors of Johns Hopkins treated her as their experimental project instead of a human. In 1951, a young mother of five named Henrietta Lacks visited the Johns Hopkins Hospital complaining of vaginal bleeding. Upon examination, well-known gynecologist Dr. Howard Jones discovered a large, malignant tumor on her cervix. He also found that Henrietta suffered from many untreated conditions, including syphilis and gonorrhea. For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language.
She’d never heard the words cervix or biopsy. She didn’t have much education, and she hadn’t studied science in school. Hopkins completely took advantage of that, but she only went to Hopkins when she thought she had no other choice, like most of the patients of color (Skloot, 2011). Hopkins had been using radium to treat cervical cancer for Henrietta. Henrietta also had to deal with another reality; she couldn\’t have any more children. The Hopkins team hadn\’t told her about infertility from the treatments ( Skloot, p. 47). If she knew that, she would not have done it.
During her treatments, two samples were taken from Henrietta\’s cervix without her permission or knowledge; one sample was of healthy tissue and the other was cancerous. Henrietta was neither informed nor asked for her consent. Skloot (2011) explained that Henrietta always deferred to whatever her doctor said. Doctor’s believed it was best not to confuse or upset patients with frightening terms they do not understand (Skloot, 2011, p. 63). Her tumor kept spreading and getting bigger inside of her. Her medical record tells us that new tumors appeared every day and that Henrietta suffered miserably.
She told her doctor that she could feel the tumor moving through her, but they found nothing so the doctor wrote in her chart that Henrietta felt well. She kept complaining of some vague lower abdominal discomfort. The doctors dismissed her claims that cancer had spread, and Henrietta never questioned him because segregation was the law. It was understood that black people didn’t question white people’s professional judgment (Skloot,2011, p. 63). Back then African Americans did not ask questions to any white doctor or doctor in general.
No one should take away anyone’s quality of rights based on their looks or the place they came from. We should realize that everyone in the world is not the same; everyone has their own story and goes through the different journey like Henrietta. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks begins with a short quotation from Elie Wiesel: “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph” (Skloot, 2011).
For far too long, Henrietta Lacks was seen as an abstraction as Elie Wiesel describes in his quote. Her cells were collected likely without her knowledge to create the HeLa line of cells. HeLa was well known in the scientific community for allowing researchers to make medical breakthroughs that helped countless people. Scientists have used HeLa cells to develop the polio vaccine; they have gone into space and have been exposed to nuclear testing and to toxins. The cells have furthered our understanding of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and cells in general.
They are still widely used today to grow viruses and to test anti-tumor medicines but very little to nothing was widely known about Henrietta Lacks herself and about her cells until Skloot’s book was published. Skloot talked about the way that Henrietta Lacks cells changed the medical history by living for years and years, but many people don’t know the real story behind the woman with the immortal cells. No one even knew she was a black woman. Johns Hopkins were taking peoples’ cells and other bodily tissues without permission and selling them without consent.
Henrietta’s cells were taken by Johns Hopkins and used without her or her family\’s knowledge. When Henrietta went to Johns Hopkins, they took samples of her tumors and sent it to Gey’s lab for culturing. When Gey’s assistant, saw Henrietta’s painted toenails, she realized the cell came from a live woman, but she realized that when Henrietta died (Skloot, p. 91). Skloot (2011) described that “Gey and his wife, Margaret, had working many years to grow malignant cells outside the body, hoping to use them to find cancer’s cause and cure.
So, they began collecting cells from any woman who happened to walk into Hopkins with Cervical cancer” (p. 30). Henrietta was one of them. Patients which were used for medical researchers in the public hospital wards were usually black people who were poor and were treated for free. Doctors justify it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment (Skloot, P. 29). George Gey never met Henrietta or told her about HeLa because he did not have a friendly relationship with patients; he just used them for his immortal cell research.
Henrietta\’s doctors used the term “miserable specimen” to her (Skloot, p. 66). It reveals that they do not refer to Henrietta as a human being but one of their research projects (specimen). Doctors also studied a large group of African American men with syphilis. So they recruited hundreds of African-American men with syphilis, then watched them die slow, painful, and preventable deaths, even after they realized penicillin could cure them (Skloot, p. 50). They were not trying to cure them, instead, they observed and researched them.
This suggested the doctors were taking advantage of African American men in order to find a medicine to cure a disease. Skloot has spent many years to humanized Henrietta and her family by discovering the untold story of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot has done a really good job in humanizing Henrietta and her family for us. She brought the story of Henrietta and her family to us. I like the way Rebecca Skloot explores the racism and greed, the idealism and faith in science that helped to save thousands of lives but nearly destroyed a family. Skloot brings not only the stories of Henrietta Lacks but also HeLa cells.
Henrietta’s family tell Skloot that they feel cheated because people made money off their wife and mother, and they can\’t even get health insurance. The boys were okay with knowing that their mother\’s cells were helping others. Until that is, they learned that HeLa cells were being sold for serious money. They guessed that Gey and Hopkins stole Henrietta\’s cells so they could make lots of money. Which is turned out not to be true: Gey didn\’t make a dime from HeLa, since he freely gave the cells away before doing his own research and there was no evidence that Hopkins profited either.
The way Gey personally profit from the development of Hela was he won reputation. Samuel Reader and Monroe Vincent made a cells distribution center, for-profit (Skloot, P. 101) Henrietta’s family member was angry that people made money off their mother and they saw none of it. Maybe George Gey tried to help people but the way he chose to do everything wasn’t right at all. At least he should have given consent to Henrietta and her family before he removed samples of her cervix. Even though he saved lots of people, he nearly killed a family.
This is really unfortunate that Johns Hopkins profited while her family to this day has no rights. Henrietta’s family should get compensation for their mother’s great contributions from the Johns Hopkins and possibly other institutions for the unauthorized use of her cells in research that led to decades of medical advances. Henrietta was not as strong as her cells, and she died a horrible death as her cancer rapidly spread. We should be honoring her as she is one of the most important women in science and medicine.