Rebecca Skloot is the lady who wrote about Henrietta Lacks in her famous expose called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In the book, Skloot reveals about the unethical manner in which doctors at the John Hopkins hospital profiteered from cells of one its patients without her consent and that of her family. Further to that, some of the media houses were running family pictures without consulting the family.
Rebecca Skloot’s book unearthed the lack of professionalism in the way in which the researchers handed Henrietta Lacks cells, and earned the author much fame. However, one question that is bound to arise is whether Rebecca Skloot deserved to make a living and a career off the story of Henrietta Lacks. The answer is a resounding yes. The next question that is bound to arise is who should benefit from her story. In my humble opinion, the immediate family of Henrietta Lacks should also be beneficiaries. They had been sidelined for a long time, and it is only fair if some form of retribution is given to them. Two things justify why it is okay for Skloot to make a career and living out the story of Henrietta Lacks. First off, Skloot did not intend to profiteer from her expose; the fame that came with it was just an offshoot of her brilliant work. Right from the time when she was in high school, she wanted to tell the story of this mysterious lady. At that time, no one seemed to tell the story of this lady despite the fact that she had provided cells that revolutionised medicine. Secondly, Rebecca Skloot did extensive research on Henrietta Lacks that no other journalist had done before her. She did more than a thousand hours of interviews, all with the purpose of unearthing the whole mystery. Even if people were to ignore her, Rebecca Skloot ought to be fettered for genuine work. The book does not pass judgment on what ought to have been done and when, and this underscores the genuineness of the author; it just gives a chronology of the events as they happened. In addition, different people are interviewed (in the book) to give a balanced opinion. Among the people interviewed includes “family and friends of Henrietta Lacks, as well as with lawyers, ethicists, scientists, and journalists who have written about the Lacks family” (Skloot 6). However, Skloot is aware that although “there is much to say on all the issues, it is beyond the scope of the book so I will leave it for scholars and experts in the field to address” (Skloot 7). The real desire on the part of the author to allow the reader to make his or her own judgement means that the author is not driven by malice to tell a biased story. Therefore, it was not the intention of the author to profiteer from the sales of her book and anything that came out from her expose. She is just driven by a desire to explore what many people did not want to discuss. As a result, the fact that she becomes a credible authority on the matters raised due to her extensive research should not be used an excuse to deny her a chance to talk about contemporary issues facing the society such as race, class, ethics and science.
Another thing that should be clear to people is that Rebecca Skloot invested much time in her research. She did more than any other the journalists who had written about Henrietta Lacks and her cells. At the time when she was growing up, no one seemed to give the right information. “When I got my first computer in the mid-nineties and started using the internet, I searched for information about her but found only confused snippets” (Skloot 11). Some magazines called her “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson” (Skloot 8). Again, “some said she died in the thirties, others said the forties, fifties or even sixties. Some said ovarian cancer killed her; others said breast or cervical cancer” (Skloot 11). The confusion urged Skloot to do extensive research to get to the bottom of the matter.
Again, it is important to note that Skloot wanted to know more about Henrietta ever since she was in high school. At one point, she followed the tutor after her Biology class to know more about Henrietta’s life. She wanted to know where she came from, and the importance of the cells. Therefore, it is essential to understand that Rebecca Skloot did not wake up one day and decide to do a story about Henrietta Lacks; it is a research that took many years to prepare, and it is something that the author was dedicated to doing. Another thing, Skloot empathised with Henrietta Lacks family. “ Jet said the family was angry – angry that Henrietta’s cells were being sold for twenty-five dollars a vial and angry that articles had been published about the cells without her knowledge” (Skloot 11). This statement indicates that Skloot felt for the family when she read about what they were going through.
On the question of who should benefit from her story, the family of Henrietta Lacks should also be beneficiaries. For many years, the family had been neglected by researchers handling HeLa cells and journalists alike. As the author reveals, the family had “a gnawing feeling that science and press had taken advantage of them” (11). Therefore, Rebecca Skloot should not appear to be just another journalist profiting from the story of Henrietta Lacks while nothing is done to the family. The story should push those in positions of authority to act such that the family receives monetary gains from the sale of HeLa cells. The general populace should also be a beneficiary of Skloot’s story. The benefit comes in the form the information disseminated. Many people are likely to participate in medical research activities, and this should be an eye-opener to them about their rights and limitations regarding the research.
In conclusion, Rebecca Skloot had to write about Henrietta Lacks; the lack of professionalism exhibited by researchers handling Henrietta Lacks cells had to be exposed. Scientists had profited from the sale of cells from a black lady even without informing her family about it. No one was talking loud enough to expose that unethical breach of the code of ethics, and Skloot had to do it. Again, the media was not interested in going overboard to understand the issues the family was raising, and once again, Skloot had to do it. Lastly, Skloot was genuine in research, and if she made a career or living out of it, it was not because she had planned it to be that way.
Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks . New York, NY : Broadway Paperbacks.