One Goal, Conflicting Personalities in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Corruption of the Medical Research Field

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When you think of a person being “immortal” you might think of a superhero, but the cells of an African American woman named Henrietta Lack are now famous. Rebecca Skloot wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to reveal the corruption of the medical research field in the 1950s, and to give Henrietta credit for the medical discoveries that the use of her cells have provided. In addition, there were significant advancements she helped achieve for the medical field. Rebecca and Deborah, two women of very different backgrounds working together to portray the life and contributions of Henrietta Lack.

Rebecca has always been very interested in Henrietta’s life and she wants to write a story of her own. She reaches out to Deborah to write a book about Henrietta. As she continues to meet with Deborah it leads to many connections and a lot of research. Looking ahead, Rebecca becomes focused on telling the real story. Rebecca is more interested in letting the world know everything Henrietta and the Lacks family had to endure throughout the years.

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The main similarity in the book is how driven both Deborah and Rebecca are to find more information about Henrietta. Deborah says, 'All this stuff I'm learning,' she said, 'it makes me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through.

It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister. It makes me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.' (Skloot 288). No matter what challenges they encountered or knowing the potential consequences that could occur they persevered down the path. They went on a journey and no one could get in their way. Deborah wanted closure, she thought it wasn’t fair that white scientists knew more about her own mother than she ever did. Rebecca’s determination is reflected in her words, “As I worked my way through graduate school studying writing, I became fixated on the idea of someday telling Henrietta's story. At one point I even called directory assistance in Baltimore looking for Henrietta's husband, David Lacks, but he wasn't listed”. (Skloot 6). With Rebecca’s determination she was able to find Deborah and interviewed her to eventually write the story that is known as the Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks.

There was racial discrimination, abuse, lack of medical knowledge, poverty, suffering and unknown information that was kept from the family about one of their own loved ones. Deborah and Rebecca went through many struggles which shows how dedicated they were to have Henrietta be recognized for all the suffrage she gave up for science. When writing a book that uncovers someone’s life like Henrietta’s you open a world that comes with much tragedy and sorrow, “Deborah was ten years old, Galen would grab Deborah in the backseat, forcing his hands under her shirt, in her pants, between her legs.” (Skloot 113). Deborah's childhood was not easy. She grew up without a father figure, and the lack of attention took a big toll on her life. Somehow she always felt closer to her cousin, Galen, then she ever did towards her real dad, Day. Galen showered her with gifts and attention. He bought her outfits and went out for ice cream, Deborah being so young and innocent she didn’t realize that this was the beginning and she would later become sexually abused by Galen. She had little to no idea what sex was until Bobetta explained how wrong it is. ” Deborah cried the whole way home to Bobbette and Lawrence's house, blood dripping from her split eyebrow, then leaped from the car and ran through the house, straight into the closet where she hid when she was upset.”(Skloot 115). After Henrietta passed away, her children are left wondering what happened to their mother, who loved and cared for them. They were now forced to grow up with Henrietta's cousins Ethel and Galen, who would mentally and physically abuse them. Nowadays these actions would not be accepted, back then this was allowed and many young girls suffered from sexual abuse. Deborah couldn’t speak up because Galen was family, and she was so young that she wasn’t able to fully comprehend what was going on.

The final difference noted between Rebecca and Deborah is trust. Rebecca stays loyal to Deborah through the whole process of writing the book. However, Deborah struggles with trusting Rebecca as a result of everyone lying to her about her mother. This very quote represents the strong emotions Deborah is feeling as she says, “Who are you working for? John Hopkins? Who sent you? Who's paying you?” (Skloot 283). Throughout the book Deborah keeps questioning Rebecca’s loyalty, while wondering if she will ever find someone that is just as devoted as she is to finding out information about her mother. When she meets Rebecca she doesn’t think it could be true, someone who wants to find more information about her mother without taking any money or blood from her. Rebecca wanted to put Henrietta's daughter, Elise’s autopsy report in the book, Deborah was not happy and she started to question Rebecca’s motives. The next quote captures the frustration that Deborah is feeling, with hatred she screams, “What were you gonna do with my mother’s medical records?!” (Skloot 239).

Deborah snapped at Rebecca, she started to put off talking to her because she thinks that she is going to use her the information to make money from the Lacks family. Rebecca is scared that Deborah might never talk to her again. She wants to learn more about Henrietta and eventually agrees to meet up again to tell her story. Rebecca says, “ I’m not trying to do anything bad, I just want to learn your mother’s story, same as you.” (Skloot 240). The whole time Rebecca didn’t mean any harm as she tries to prove her loyalty to Deborah. Unlike Cofield, who claims he was a “lawyer” and “ doctor” that wanted to help Deborah get the word out about Henrietta, however he was an insane man who wanted to take money from the Lacks family. Deborah doesn’t trust that anyone really wants to help her get the closure she deserves about her mother. Rebecca is a very strong and faithful woman, she wants nothing more than to have all of Deborah’s lingering questions answered.

Through all the ups and downs and all of Deborah’s outbreaks in anger, she stuck by her side. Eventually, she published the book and made Deborah’s wishes come true. Although Rebecca and Deborah had very different socioeconomic backgrounds, they were able to bond together to depict the life of Henrietta Lack. Both Rebecca and Deborah were driven to find out more about Henrietta's life, and the impact her cells provided over the past 100 years. Their combined efforts have resulted in the story of a medical hero.

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One Goal, Conflicting Personalities in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Corruption of the Medical Research Field. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
“One Goal, Conflicting Personalities in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Corruption of the Medical Research Field.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
One Goal, Conflicting Personalities in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Corruption of the Medical Research Field. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
One Goal, Conflicting Personalities in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Corruption of the Medical Research Field [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from:

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