Have you ever wondered why our privacy is now so heavily protected under many laws? While many people do not know, Henrietta Lacks gave us the comfort of knowing that our DNA won’t ever be copied without our permission or knowledge. The book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” written by author Rebecca Skloot gives us an insight of the real and raw side of Henrietta’s story. The story that nobody ever told and that doctors kept trying to hide for many years. “Her name is Henrietta Lacks. I’ve spent years staring at that photo, wondering what kind of life she led, what happened to her children, and what she’d think about cells from her cervix living on forever – bought, sold, packaged, and shipped by the trillions to laboratories around the world.” (Pg. #2). By writing this passage, Rebecca is showing both sympathy and empathy.
She starts off the book by trying to put herself in Henrietta’s shoes. She not only tries to grasp but to understand the pain and suffering that the family and Henrietta herself must’ve/ could’ve felt by knowing that her cells were stolen and used for others benefits. In the book, Rebecca often goes from telling Henrietta’s and her family’s story to telling her journey while she was learning it. In which, she frequently expresses her emotions and feelings towards everything that she has learned.
One could argue that this book served many or different purposes and they would be right. We can’t ever be completely sure of who really was the intended audience unless we were to ask the author herself. Although, in my personal belief, the true purpose of this book was to inform us about the woman behind the immortal cells, Henrietta Lacks. Before this book was written, nobody knew about her real story and little knew about her identity. Rebecca wanted readers to know how much suffering the “mother of modern medicine” had endured while she was alive. Additionally, she wanted readers to know the agony and torment her family felt after finding out that doctors gained millions of dollars off their mother’s cells more than twenty years later. Due to this, I believe the intended audience is not only people who did not know about her story but individuals who have experienced the loss of a family member or simply anyone they knew. The audience doesn’t necessarily always have to be one person or group.
There are many ways the intended message could be interpreted. Due to the fact that we all have different perspectives/mindsets, the potential message all depends on the individual who is reading the book. After reading the book thoroughly, I have concluded that the claim or say the message was to let us know that we truly only have ourselves and our family. Therefore, to doctors, scientists, or anybody other than our family, we are just another number, patient or person they have met. “What really would upset Henrietta is the fact that Dr. Gey never told the family anything – we didn’t know nothing about those cells and he didn’t care.” (Pg. #169). This passage like many others in the book, state that doctors or any other individual for that matter, do not care about us as long as it is benefiting them. While Dr. Gey was gaining millions of dollars annually off HeLa and her cells, her family knew nothing of the money and most importantly of the fact that their mother was still alive and more famous than ever. Whilst her family was suffering and mourning the loss of their mother, doctors and scientists all around the world were celebrating a new medical revolution and covering themselves in money that did not belong to them. It is saddening to think that when doctors tell us that they care about us and our health they’re lying. If it was still legal, they would most likely be taking advantage of DNA and cells without our knowledge, just like they did with Henrietta.
If you were to walk up to a stranger and ask them who Henrietta Lacks is, the probability of them knowing what or who you are talking about is tremendously low. The fact that we may have all benefited from HeLa cells without even knowing about it is unbelievable. We are all so selfish that we don’t even care to know why or how we are able to have patient privacy. We are eternally happy that we have the polio vaccine and that technology has advanced so much to the point cloning and gene mapping is all possible. Yet, we could care less about the woman behind it all, about the woman that made it achievable and realistic.
To conclude, I strongly believe this would be a good read for anybody. Individuals who love reading as well as individuals who hate it. When I first got the book, my first thought was to just put it away and never pick it up again. It felt so heavy and looked so long. Each page I read, brought me to the realization that all we have ever know is a lie. I realized that everybody needed to know her story and that it was the least she deserved. By reading this book we are not only passing time but we are learning about our history. In some way, we are able to go back in time and feel someone else’s aching while still being in the comfort of our own bed.