Why is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks important?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is important because it highlights the medical, bioethical, and social issues related to the story of Henrietta Lacks and the discovery and use of HeLa cells.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rebecca Skloot's book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is important for several reasons. One reason is medical in nature: Henrietta Lacks's cervical cancer cells generated an immortal cell line, HeLa, that is used in scientific research. There have been studies that utilized HeLa cells and ended up yielding...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Rebecca Skloot's book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is important for several reasons. One reason is medical in nature: Henrietta Lacks's cervical cancer cells generated an immortal cell line, HeLa, that is used in scientific research. There have been studies that utilized HeLa cells and ended up yielding results and explanations that are vital to the genetics and oncology fields, and the cells have contributed significantly to medical advances.

Another reason is bioethical in nature, as the book brings to light the issue of informed consent. Lacks's cells were collected without her knowledge, and her family was not compensated for the use of her cells for medical research. The ethics, or lack thereof, involved in Lacks's doctor's actions have generated a great deal of debate, especially considering what was and was not disclosed to Lacks's family.

Yet another reason is social in nature and relates to the implications of medical practitioners making a great deal of money from cells that were taken from a Black American woman who did not have a high school education and who came from a family that had a modest income. The racial and economic factors at play in Lacks's story remain highly relevant in American society today.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on