The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is a story about three different controversial journeys. It is about scientists on a journey to discover. The author is on a journey to learn and spread the story of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken and used for research. And perhaps the most touching journey of them is of Deborah, Henrietta's daughter, who just wants to know what kind of person her mother was. Rebecca wrote using these three perspectives. She tells interchanging tales of the history of cell research and Deborah's discoveries, all woven together by the author's own perspective, and all of these journeys are centered around Henrietta's cells, which lived on even after she died.
Rebecca's writing begs many questions, most of which could be discussed for hours at a time. Some examples of these questions are: Does Henrietta's spirit live in these cells? Was it ethical for the doctors and scientists to use her cells without her consent? Does her family deserve part of the money that has been made off of them? Each reader will inquire about different topics and from different perspectives. But no matter how each reader thinks, the important thing is that it brings them all together. Scientists and Theologians are drawn together into discussion, and what could be better? What is thought of as two ends of the earth are drawn together as they meet on the other side. The earth, after all, is a sphere, so two things going in the opposite direction are bound to meet.
And so I myself must also search for answers to these questions. So first off, I don't believe that her spirit still lives in her cells. Technically, they are no longer the cells that came from her - they are replicas. That being said, I also believe that as soon as her tissues were removed, they were no longer a part of her. In Mark 9:47, the writer says, "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell," (ESV). The tearing out of the eye to purify oneself implies that once the eye leaves the body, it is no longer a part of the rest of the body. So I can only draw the conclusion that it is the same case with her cervix tissues. As far as ethics go, I am still not sure where I stand, but I think for the most part, I would say that the end justifies the means. A lot of people have benefitted from vaccines that were able to be created through research with her cells. At the same time, Henrietta wasn't actually slighted by the removal of her cervix tissues - in fact, she didn't even notice. The only argument about ethics that should really be made is whether she should have been able to make money off of it. Had she known that her cells would be worth money to researchers, she could have sold them. That being said, the original intentions of George Gey, who first took the cells from her, were not to make money, but to do research. He never made a profit - he just shared the cells with his fellow scientists, who then decided to sell them. And so that being said, I think it's also important to keep in mind that all of the work that has been done and all of the benefits that have come about have been because of the scientists - not necessarily because of Henrietta. She was in the right place at the right time, but none of her actions have at all contributed to the research that has been done. And so in that way, I don't believe that she or her family deserves any type of payment.
It is a very controversial and slippery slope to take an adventure down, but we, too, as readers can begin journeys of our very own - inspired by this book.