The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks essay sample

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The book by Rebecca Skloot describes the life of Henrietta Lacks, a cancer victim whose cells was obtained without consent and had been used to make profits in science. In this story, a number of instances of violation privacy can be traced throughout the novel. In the novel, Henrietta’s family sought to find the demarcation between legitimate right to privacy and the right of knowing by the public (Truog, Kesselheim &Joffe, 2012 p.6090). Her tissue was removed and distributed to different labs for medical research (Skloot, 2010 p.31).

Anything taken from a person without their knowledge is interference with their privacy as it happened with Henrietta’s tissue as Truog et al. (2012) state. Despite the positive outcomes of the studies conducted with the family never knew of it for over 20 years (Skloot, 2013 p.40). They came to learn of it when doctors started investigating them without seeking their consent after receiving information on HeLa tissue (Nisbet & Fahy, 2013, p.1). The HeLa cells were used by Chester Southam, a virologist who lied to patients that he was testing them for cancer only to infect them with it. This was interference with their privacy because they had their blood tested for what they had not consented to. Similarly, in chapter 23, the researchers revealed that to the family that Henrietta’s cells were alive leaving them confused (Skloot, 2010 p.180). The greatest violation of privacy is exposed when Deborah (Henrietta’s Daughter) reads about HeLa and recognizes that they were cells of her mother. She wonders how the information was collected, and even the Dr. McKusick, and Howard Jones, who had revealed the information to a British journalist deny their contribution (Skloot, 2010 p.187).

Skloot’s book is rife with many unethical practices involving the violation of privacy. It challenges different professionals especially doctors, journalists and advocates to learn how a simple breach of information can turn exploitive and destructive.


Nisbet, M. C., & Fahy, D. (2013). Bioethics in popular science: evaluating the media impact of The Immortal Llife of Henrietta Lacks on the biobank debate. BMC medical ethics, 14(1), 1.

Skloot, R. (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishing Group.Truog, R. D., Kesselheim, A. S., & Joffe, S. (2012). Paying tissue donors: The legacy of Henrietta Lacks. Science, 337(6090), …

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