The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Short Summary
The “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is a book written by Rebecca Skloot. It talks about a destitute black woman named Henrietta, who grew up in the south.
Here Is a Brief Plot Overview
Throughout most of her life, Henrietta toiled all day on a tobacco farm. She was one among nine children in her family. Upon her mother’s death, Henrietta’s father split the care of her siblings amongst relatives. Henrietta had to live with her grandfather named Tommy Lacks, and other cousins.
Henrietta shared a bed with her cousin David Lacks, who was five years her senior. As they grew old, they began having sexual relations leading to Henrietta’s pregnancy at 14 years of age. She later had several other children before finally marrying David. However, David was a promiscuous drunk. Later on, her family relocated to Baltimore after David got a job at the steel mill.
At age 30, Henrietta felt a “knot” on her lower abdomen. Upon visiting a doctor at John Hopkins University, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Since she was admitted to the public ward, doctors freely took samples of her tissues as payment. Most of the cultured cells only survived a few days before they died.
However, Henrietta’s cells doubled within one night. This left the lab technician in dismay. Upon separating her culture into two containers, the cells doubled once again consuming all the space. The phenomenon immensely intrigued the lab director as well as the larger medical research fraternity.
Henrietta’s tissues were later named HeLa cells and were distributed to various labs across the globe. Numerous medical breakthroughs were made using these HeLa cells, and private corporations made millions of dollars through the sale of her cells. In essence, Henrietta Lacks gained immortality through her dead cancerous cells.
She succumbed a few months later without ever knowing that her cells had been extracted. Similarly, Henrietta’s family never knew about the use of her cells until 20 years after her death. As corporations made millions, her family languished in poverty without medical cover.
Though Henrietta’s “immortality” paved the way for numerous medical research achievements, it also resulted in tighter regulations on the use of tissues and cells of patients. After the exploitation of Henrietta’s cells, research restrictions and standards were ratified. This includes the informed consent clause.