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What is the central thesis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? From the...

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sammyn | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted August 23, 2012 at 9:30 PM via web

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What is the central thesis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

From the persausive argument found in the book, by the author.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 23, 2012 at 9:57 PM (Answer #1)

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Since it is a biography, the central thesis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is to discover the untold story of Henrietta Lacks. So, first and foremost, it is about Henrietta and her family. Just as central is the issue of how her cells were used without her or her family's knowledge. This story becomes an ethical question of what rights people had/have in how their cells, blood, etc. are used in medical research. It is also a question of race. Had Henrietta been white, it is possible that she would have at least gained some recognition, then or over time, for the contribution her cells continue to provide to cancer research. Rebecca Skloot wrote the book to learn more about Henrietta as well as the medical, personal, and racial issues related to the story. The book has a lot to do with attitudes of race in the 1950s as compared with today. The book also makes the case that citizens should have access to knowledge (and perhaps compensation) for how even parts of their bodies as small as cells are used. 

So, there are a lot of issues that emerge as Skloot learns about and shares Henrietta's story. The central thesis is that the book is about the justifiably responsible, ethical and legal reasons to share Henrietta's story with the world. After all, her cells have been used in cancer research centers throughout the world. It is important to note any contribution of such significance. If her cells continue to be used, this would make Henrietta (technically) biologically immortal. Therefore, her story should likewise be remembered even long after her cells cease being reproducedNo other patient in history has given more, physically, to cancer research. 

"Henrietta's cells have now been living outside her body for longer than they ever lived inside it," Defler said. If we went to almost any cell culture lab in the world and opened its freezers, he told us, we'd probably find millions -- if not billions -- of Henrietta's cells in small vials on ice. (4)

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