In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, discuss the abuse that Henrietta faced.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This question seems to imply that Henrietta was the victim of rape or some other abuse. In fact, the text does not clearly state that this was the case at all. Although in Chapter Two, which describes Henrietta's early life and background, it is clear that her relationship with Day, her cousin, started in part because they shared a bedroom together from their early years, no specific mention is made of rape or abuse.

However, the text does raise the interesting issue of what counts as abuse. One of the biggest abuses, it suggests, is the way in which a sample of Henrietta's tumour was taken from her without her consent. This occurs at the time of her first cancer treatment in Chapter Three, when Dr. Wharton, before beginning the radium treatment that was used in those days to treat cancer, takes a sample without Henrietta's knowledge:

But first--though no one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor--Wharton picked up a sharp knife and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta's cervix...

Arguably, this is the biggest abuse that Henrietta faces, both during her life and after, as her family's anger amply demonstrates. The way in which others were allowed to prosper on the sale of HeLa when Henrietta herself and her family lived lives shaped by poverty is the biggest abuse in this text.

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