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Scientists are always looking for different ways to cure certain diseases; however, their methods may be questionable. In Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot is investigating the connection between cancer patient Henrietta Lacks and modern day medical research. Even for those without a background in medicine, this novel is interesting and easy to read while still educating the reader about the fundamentals of cellular biology.
Skloot writes this book for several different reasons and one of those reasons is to explain the medical methodology behind cancer research in a straightforward manner. For example, Skloot breaks down the complex process of cloning: “To understand why cellular cloning was important, you need to know [that]… cells often behave differently, even if they’re all from the same sample, which means some grow faster than others, some produce more poliovirus, and some are resistant to certain antibiotics” (Skloot 99-100). Skloot gives information about medicine in order to help the readers understand the value of Henrietta Lacks and her contribution to the medical community. She also tries to personalize Henrietta Lacks because the people who used her cells did not even remember her name. Skloot introduces Henrietta’s family members and her descendants to show that Henrietta is a real person and not just a clump of cells. She believes that there was an injustice done to Henrietta and that she deserves to be acknowledged as a human, not just a medical oddity. Furthermore, Skloot introduces a medical ethics question whether or not it was right for the doctors to take Henrietta’s cells without permission to help cure diseases. She does this to allow the reader to wrestle and make their own judgement.
Rebecca Skloot writes this book for the general public in order to reach more people who are not familiar with HeLa cells or Henrietta Lacks. She accomplishes this by fictionalizing dialogue between the people in her book and simplifying medical details. Instead of trying to write an expository text about Henrietta Lacks, Skloot uses dialogue to allow the reader to connect with the people involved in her story. For instance, she includes dialogue between Henrietta and David when they are given the results of her biopsy (Skloot 29-33). She also gears her novel towards the general public by eliminating complicated medical jargon and instead, explains genetics in simpler terms: “Once scientists knew how many chromosomes people were supposed to have, they could tell when a person had too many or too few, which made it possible to diagnose genetic diseases” (Skloot 100). Her main purpose is to reach as many people as she can and it cannot be done if the reader is alienated by the complicated medical details.
Rebecca Skloot sides with Henrietta Lacks’ family and believes that the doctors’ decisions are unjust because they did not respect Henrietta’s decision. Lacks’ argument is convincing because she does not overcomplicate the biology behind the studies and she writes as if this whole situation is fictional. However, she does this so that she can appeal to the readers’ emotions and have them form their own opinions. Rebecca Skloot’s argument is based on sufficient scientific evidence because she uses credible information and data from scientists like “George Gey, head of tissue culture research at Hopkins” (Skloot 30). Therefore, this book is filled with the basics of biology which serves to educate the audience while conveying Rebecca Skloots’ argument of how people should never forget that Henrietta Lacks is more than a clump of cells, but rather be appreciated for her help in the advancement of the medical field.
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