Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot


"Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same."

Author's Purpose

To persuade: Skloots argues that Lacks' family should have been compensated for the contributions of her cells to scientific research.

To inform: Her cells were responsible for vaccines and cancer research; her family as well as many black families received mediocre health care, the irony is that because of this black women, many medical advances were possible. Also, this book brings up privacy issues and patient information when it comes to research.

"The question is how to deal with this commercialization---whether scientists should be required to tell people their tissues may be used for profit..." (322).

Three Concepts

A: Patient Privacy

B: Lacks Family

C: Scientific Research

Greatest Impression

"They're beautiful," she whispered, then went back to staring at the slide in silence. Eventually, she said, "God, I never thought I'd see my mother under a microscope---I never dreamed this day would ever come" (266). The family's story is what I am most impressed with. This family's mother is making science history and they can't even afford health insurance

Book Rating

I would rate this book a 5. This is a book for people who love science or a good human interest story. Skloot explains really difficult science stuff in a way that makes it easy for us non-science people and weaves a very sympathetic and touching tale about the family of Henrietta Lacks.

Passage #1

Pages 291-293

This passage shows how vulnerable Lacks's daughter Debra is. She is a woman with strong faith and during the whole process to learn about her mother's cell contribution she needed that faith to lean on.

Passage #2

Pages 42-43

This is an interesting picture of how human Henrietta Lacks was. I think people forget the person behind the HeLa cells. History has forgotten that this was a woman with a husband and a family. Her cancer took her at a very young age. She will never know her contribution to science.

Social Issues This Book Raises

Can scientific research happen if no one volunteers their health information to research? I always mark no on the HPPA form I receive at my doctor's office because it kind of freaks me out that my information is being used to make medical decisions. What if my information leads to break throughs in science that I don't know about? What if something bad is discovered in my information that I should know about? Will I be informed?