Book Report The Immortal Life of Hernietta Lacks

Hernietta Lacks is without question one of the most significantfigures in the research of cancer. Additionally, the story is onethat goes beyond the medical scope, as it has implications for theUnited States’ racism war, as well as the Civil Rights Movement. Inher book, Rebecca Skloot describes how an illegal medical procedurewas carried out on her without duly obtaining her consent. At thesame time, her family was kept in the dark for quite a long time,something that was a clear violation of her human rights. Equally,the story of Henrietta Lacks raises concerns about the pertinentissue of racial discrimination in the United States, because onepossible explanation is that the doctors did not follow due proceduregiven her racial affiliation. The book is chosen because ithighlights very important social issues. This paper is a book reportof The Immortal Life of Hernietta Lacks, which additionallyincorporates specific examples of racial discrimination mentioned,and their ties to later civil rights acts passed to end the unjustpractices.


The story takes place in the twentieth century. The event occursthrough the lifetime of Hernietta Lacks. Beginning in 1920, the storytakes place where she was born, in an upcountry farm where herparents were tobacco farmers. It takes place through many places,where there is an interaction of post-World War relatives to a pointwhere she met a doctor who eventually conducted the infamous researchon her. A good part of the story takes place in Clover, Virginia,where Hernietta’s father took her to her siblings to grow up. Partof it also takes place in Bethloem, Maryland, near Baltimore, wherethe author demonstrates the situation of the African Americans whowere mostly tobacco farmers. Perhaps the most significant location ofthe book is Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the cancer research tookplace, leading to samples being obtained from her without herconsent.


Harrietta Lacks is the protagonists of the story. She was born onAugust 1 1920, and died on October 4, 1951, from cervical cancer. Shewas born Loretta Pleasant to Eliza and John Pleasant. However, it isnot clear how she got the name Harrieta. Harrietta married her cousinDavid Lacks, and together, they had to children, Lawrence and Esie.Another important character in the book is George Grey. A characterwho did not support the protagonist, Grey was responsible for thehiding of important information as to who the true owner of the HeLacells was. Grey kept the information to himself for the purpose ofdoing research on the cells and advancing his biological career.However, at one point, he made the findings of the research public,hence helping revolutionize the fight against cancer. Other importantcharacters in the book are biologists such as Leigh Van Valen,Francis Crick and James B. Watson.


The main theme of the book is racial discrimination. The concept isbased on the life of a black woman whose life story took the issue ofracial discrimination to the next level. During these times, theblacks would only attend certain hospitals in the United States(Comely 8). Henrietta went to Johns Hopkins University, because it isthe closest hospital to her that would admit people of her skincolor. At the same time, the doctors tending to her did not respecther civil rights, as they obtained cells that were used in researchwithout her knowledge or consent. Additionally, there are elements ofracism that are associated with the manner in which her doctorshandled her. The most outrageous fact in her case is that her cellswere used without her knowledge, which is part of medical ethics.Similarly, she was never given recognition for her importantcontribution to the world of medicine, nor was she duly compensated.From the book “it is believed that black people didn’t questionwhite people’s professional judgment” (89). According toMarshall, during this time, the blacks had no voice (68). She in factdied before the civil rights movement began in the United States,which would go a long way in fighting for the end of discriminationin the country.

There are a number of inherent cases of unfairness and prejudice inthe book. Hernietta was denied a choice to be informed how her bodywould be used for research, just because she was a black woman. TheBlacks came to realize that the whites were not grateful for whatthey had done to them. “Black scientists and technicians, many ofthem women, used cells from a black woman to help save the millionsof Americans, many of them white” (124). Her story was just the tipof what her fellow black people went through. However, after herdeath, there were a number of developments that were influenced byher story. After her death, the Army Chief of Staff integrated thelegislation of civil rights, the twenty-fourth amendment passed andthe Blacks were allowed to vote in the national elections. At thesame time, Princess Anne campus, which was a separate college forAfrican Americans, admitted those who would not be allowed into theUniversity of Maryland. This changed as Civil Rights Activists cameup and fought for the rights of the Blacks, and racial discriminationwas eventually contained in significant measures.


In the prologue, the author describes an old photograph of HenriettaLacks. She became interested in the story at the age of sixteen whenher lecturer gave them an interesting lecture about the qualities ofthe human cells. Her protagonist, Henrietta Lacks, was born in 1951.She lived a normal life until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.After the death of her mother, she moved to Virginia with the rest ofher family. She met her doctors at the John Hopkins University, andgiven her lack of information about cervical cancer, she was not wellaware of the procedures that were being carried on her. After herdeath, the professional conduct of the American doctors was revised,and the Civil Rights Movement relied greatly on her experiences tofight for the Blacks’ rights.


The story of Henrietta Lacks has been described by scholars as onewith immense influence in the fields of culture and medicine. Whileit was used to revolutionize medical procedures in the United States,it was used to highlight the plight of the black Americans, who wereracially discriminated. Fast forwarding to the present, most of thesteps made in the fight against minority discrimination by the CivilRights Movement activists would not have been, were it not for thecontributions made by Lacks’ story. The book is a great one forboth civil rights activists and medical practitioners.

Works Cited

Cornely, Paul B. &quotTrend inRacial Integration in Hospitals in the United States.&quot Journalof the National Medical Association&nbsp49.1(1957): 8. Print.

Marshall, Thomas H. &quotCitizenshipand social class.&quot&nbspSociologyat the Crossroads&nbsp(1963):67-127. Print.

Skloot, Rebecca.&nbspTheImmortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011. Print.