The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

1480 Words Sep 28th, 2015 6 Pages
Rebecca Skloot’s bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, begins with a quote from World War II concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own source of anguish” (Wiesel qtd. in Skloot n. pag.). This quote serves as a preview of the book and its underlying moral purposes, as Henrietta Lacks and her family are continually treated as objects without rights to their privacy and without regards to their worth or feelings. The dehumanization of the Lacks family by the media and scientific community not only resulted in consequences for the family, but influenced society, as well.

In a HIPAA-conscious society today, some of the most obvious and concerning examples of the objectification of Henrietta and her family are the inconceivable breaches of privacy. Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s youngest daughter, originally chose to not request access to her mother’s medical records because “she was afraid of what she might find and how it might affect her” (Skloot 209). In 1985, however, Science 85 reporter Michael Gold published a book about Henrietta’s “Immortal Legacy” including extensive verbatim quotes from Henrietta’s medical records, including details about her previous medical history, diagnosis, pain, decline and death, and even autopsy (210). Skloot recounts Gold’s offenses, “No one in Henrietta’s family had ever seen those…
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