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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks written by Rebecca Skloot raises various contradictions that still have not been eradicated from the contemporary society. In addition, the writing dwells upon the birth of bioethics. This dramatic scientific research has resonated strongly in society, and it inevitably affects everyone who reads the book. The purpose of this paper is to consider the topics raised by this research and to analyze its core underlying messages.
The book tells about a woman named Henrietta Lacks. One day it turned out that she was sick and the doctor providing services to Henrietta took her cells without the woman’s consent. Later, these cells became an important medical tool and caused a major breakthrough in the industry while their owner died without knowing about the contribution she made to the lives of future generations (Skloot 370).
Themes, Formative Influences, and Social Identification
It should be stressed that this book has covered many critical topics. One of them is the theme of suffering. The family of Henrietta Lacks had to face the consequences of slavery and the outcomes of institutionalized racism. As the family was poor and society was full of prejudice, it was impossible to break the circle of poverty and harassment. Many of the family members, as well as Henrietta, were uneducated people; consequently, they were limited in their opportunities (Skloot 299). The formative influence of legal system on the lives of common people resulted in the number of barriers that the family had to overcome.
Another theme is morality and ethics. Although Henrietta was diseased, she did not give her consent for removing the cells for research purposes (Skloot 298). Although she did agree to have the cancer cells to be removed, the woman was not aware that they would be given away for experimentation. The ethics of scientific research lies in the fact that the patient has to be knowledgeable of everything that will happen to his or her cells and Henrietta only knew that cancer cells would be cut away. This difference reveals the ethical violation performed by the scientists.
Notably, the social identity of the family evolves throughout the story. Initially, the family was questioning why scientists were making huge money on Henrietta’s cells whereas they were unable to receive any benefit from them. Nonetheless, Deborah Lacks revealed another perspective on this issue when she expressed her concern that her mother was never officially acknowledged as a person who made all the discoveries implementable (Deborah 301). The financial aspect did not play any significant role since the family wanted that Henrietta’s role in scientific research was recognized.
Also, the theme of race intensifies the ethical dilemma. The woman’s background had a direct impact on the doctor’s unethical decision-making. With the development of the plot, both the family and the readers could comprehend that it was their race that prevented the family from gaining equal access to education and resulted in the improper treatment of individuals from the side of scientific community (Deborah 107). The emphasized exploitation of African-Americans by the scientific world for the sake of financial benefit is the leitmotif of the entire story, and this understanding reveals the core of social identification by this population and all the other groups that still face racial prejudice.
Importantly, the coping mechanisms employed by the family are drastically different. Henrietta lived in a place, which was very close to a setting where Ku Klux Klan used to operate (Deborah 76). The social desensitization by the main character might be considered a form of coping strategy, but it only stressed the process of adaptation to inequity. In their turn, the family tried to fight it, which implied that they were no longer eager to perceive discrimination and consider it tolerable.
The main difference between my life and the life of the Lacks family is that I have the similar access to education as many other people do. It provides an opportunity to become an educated person who can contribute to the development of society and evolve as a person through learning and cognitive processes. Nevertheless, unfortunately, there is a similarity with the book characters as well. In the contemporary society, there is still place to racism, prejudice, and inequalities since the extermination of these phenomena is a lengthy process, which requires the joint effort of all people inclusively.
The book pushes towards social action since it is a vivid display of inequality, injustice, and unethical behavior based on prejudice. Not only African-American people still face oppression but also the representatives of other national, cultural, and religious groups. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to combat the existing harassment and abuse. All the people should have equal opportunities to education, healthcare, and services envisaged to the population by the state. Moreover, all people inclusively should be sole owners of their bodies and minds despite their origin or background. Therefore, it is the role of everyone to assist those who are oppressed in fighting for security and social justice.
Thus, the work by Rebecca Skloot is a dramatic story about the fate of an ordinary woman who gave her immortal cells to the world and the way dishonest doctors have influenced the development not only of healthcare but also the life of society in general. One of the most important issues raised by the book is whether people themselves or anyone else (doctors, scientists) are full owners of their bodies and whether other individuals have the right to impose on other people’s rights and freedoms. The book is a valuable and reliable source of information on social injustice, and it drives readers to become active participants in changing society towards becoming harmonious and secure for everyone.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Pan Macmillan, 2011.