The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Themes

  • Rebecca Skloot examines the field of medical ethics in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In 1951, Henrietta's doctors took tissue samples of both her healthy and cancerous cells without obtaining permission or even informing her of their actions. Today, that would be illegal, and Skloot traces the various medical scandals that resulted in the reformulating of medical ethics.
  • Science is everywhere in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot explains how George Gey and his team grew HeLa cells in a lab, diagrams cell structures to explain HeLa cells to Henrietta's family, and recounts the curious history of scientists like Alexis Carrel, a Frenchman whose attempts to create an immortal cell line inspired the cult film The Blob about an immortal chicken heart that just keeps growing.
  • Family is one of the central themes of the book. Skloot traces Henrietta's personal history, using interviews conducted with her family members, who feature prominently in the book. Henrietta had five children: Lawrence, Elsie, Sonny, Deborah, and Joe a.k.a Zakariyya. After her death, her children struggled with loss, abuse, poverty, racism, and disrespect from the medical community; but the family stuck together through it all.


(The entire section is 897 words.)