portrait of Henrietta Lacks with lines building on her image to a grid of connected dots

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

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How did people's reaction to her subject influence Skloot's writing?

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Conducting research for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks influenced Rebecca Skloot's writing and, more generally, her attitude toward the people and topics involved. When Skloot began investigating Lacks and the HeLa cells, she did not anticipate learning that Lacks's family had been deceived about the outcome of their relative's death. The family members' initial negative reactions and slowly changing attitudes largely led to their participation in the research. Skloot's subsequent realization of the relatives strong feelings also influenced her to incorporate many voices in the narrative.

When Skloot began to conduct research on Lacks, she assumed that she was simply ignorant about the facts. She soon found that much of the information had been withheld and that neither Lacks nor any family member had ever consented to have the cells removed or used. Skloot ended up forming lasting relationships with Deborah, Henrietta's daughter, and other relatives, as well as embarking on a much more thorough investigation of medical ethics. In addition, rather than structuring the book in chronological sequence, she included the stories of family members and her interactions with them.

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