What is the central thesis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? From the persausive argument found in the book, by the author.

Expert Answers
amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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)

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Rebecca Skloot writes in the Prologue to her book, "The story of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells raises important issues regarding science, ethics, race, and class" (page xiv). The main point of the book is that the huge discrepancy between the lives of Henrietta Lacks and her children on one hand and the profits generated by her cells on the other raises questions about the fairness of the way in which her cells have been used in scientific research.

While Henrietta Lacks lived in poverty and faced racial discrimination, even by the medical establishment (she was treated for cervical caner in a clinic for African American people at Johns Hopkins), her cells, harvested for research, went on to be enormously profitable and successful in research in several medical fields. Her family, however, continued to live in poverty, lack health coverage, and be mostly uninformed about what had happened to her. The author's point is that medical science must allow people to make informed choices about what happens to their tissues and that the ethics of this type of research must be openly debated. 

hunt8storm | Student

I agree with the answer above completely! However I was just recently asked what is the central ARGUMENT in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Thoughts @amarang9? 

Read the study guide:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question