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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Mikayla McNeilly

on 7 June 2013

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Transcript of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot Rhetoric Strategies Central Claims Author's Bias Rebecca Skloot uses logos as a way to help the reader understand the story of Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks children, and the impact of Henrietta's cells ("HeLa") in science. Skloot provides historical background of science, the medical system, and how African Americans played into these categories, in the time period that Henrietta fought her battle with cervical cancer. By listing the contributions of Henrietta's cells and explaining them in depth, providing the who, what, when, where, and why, Rebecca Skloot enforces the idea that science would not be where it is now without the HeLa cells. Skloot describes the background and contributions of researchers/scientists/patients with unique cells, who were in the midst of similar situations to the HeLa cell situation or involved in it, to help the reader understand why the debate of "informed consent"/giving the patient the right over their tissue cells was so heated. Skloot also does this as she provides facts/statements from people on both sides of this debate. Author's Background Logos Simile/Metaphor Rebecca Skloot uses simile and metaphor, especially
in the beginning of the story, in order to interest the reader in science. She compares the cell to a "fried egg", "New York street", and "perfectly choreographed dance", captivating the reader and helping the reader make connections. Skloot uses simile and metaphor to help the reader get an idea of why he or she should know about Henrietta Lacks and her cells. She also uses simile and metaphor to create understanding in the reader of Henrietta's situation, the feelings of her family, and describing events, along with other aspects. Irony Rebecca Skloot uses irony in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot uses not by creating it, but more of pointing out situations that are ironic. Skloot provides several instances, in the medical/science research on tissue, especially the HeLa cells and situations similar to it, that are ironic. Skloot acknowledges that even though the discoveries made in science, especially by the HeLa cells, are so significant and beneficial, science has also been responsible for research/experiments and practice that is less than moral. Skloot also points out, when noting situations when people whose cells were sold for millions of dollars received nothing, no acknowledgment at all to the people providing the materials, that giving people the ability to do research, is not necessarily just and somewhat hypocritical. Summary Rebecca Skloot was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1973. When she was in high school, she was behind on credits and was later enrolled into Portland Community College. At this college is where she first learned about HeLa cells. After learning that little was known about the cell donor, she decided to research more about the Lacks family and reveal to the world who the HeLa donor really was. Before she wrote, The Immortal Life of Henriella Lacks, she also attended Colorado State University, where she was studying biological sciences. Here she started taking creative writing courses, sparking her interest in really developing the story of Henrietta Lacks, her cells, and her family. Through her in depth interviews, she became close to the Lacks family, especially Henriettas daughter, Deborah. After a decade of exhausting research she finally published her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Failure for the hospital to ask for consent regarding the use of Henrietta’s cells.

When Henrietta was in the hospital for cervical cancer, Dr. Gey took cells that later would be deemed “immortal’ cells. There was never any record of any consent that Henrietta or her family gave in order for the line of HeLa cells to be developed in the first place, let alone the mass distribution that soon followed. Skloot went into great detail regarding the fact that there was never any consent given to anyone to create his line and because of that, the family members thought that the hospital owed them any compensation from the hospital because they believed that the hospital was making money off of their mother’s cells. The morality involved with science.

Skloot, though still defending science for their beneficial contributions, because of her respect for it, conveys that science should be held with a certain morality. Skloot writes of the injections of cancer and syphilis experiment to patients, in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, without their knowledge, as well as other situations where researchers injected deadly diseases into people without their knowledge, pointing out that because it is science, where behavior or thought relies on logic over emotion, it does not mean it has no require a moral code. There is harm that can be done in research/cell commercialization/being uniformed or misinformed. Skloot wishes to show us that finding a new cure for a disease may completely lose it's purpose, to help people, if the research for it deliberately kills people, causes them physical and emotional distress, like Deborah Lacks. Skloot also conveys that science needs to remember where it's materials came from, but pointing out the strangeness in the concept that researchers and scientists can make millions of dollars off of a person's cells, but the person, in which the cells belong to, will receive no money nor any compensation at all. This is the same reason Skloot chose to share the story of the woman, Henrietta Lacks, behind HeLa; if people cannot acknowledge/appreciate Henrietta Lacks, the whole reason HeLa exists, the discoveries and contributions made with HeLa will deem meaningless. In, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot depicts the life of both Henrietta Lacks and her family. She begins with illustrating Henrietta's early and adolescent life, as well as the beginning and end of her fight with cervical cancer. Skloot also touches heavily on the ethics of taking Henrietta's cells without her written consent. After she explains Henrietta's life with and without cancer, she then explains how the medical field became more and more advanced all because of the creation of the immortal HeLa cell line. With the creation of the immortal cell line also came the creation of the commercialization of the cell distribution. She explains how Henrietta's family feels like Henrietta was taken advantage of, partly because they did not receive any compensation for the distribution of the cells. Skloot then depicts the poverty stricken Lacks family. She flawlessly explains why the family was mad that they never received any compensation, and thought Henrietta was taken advantage of. Then, for about the second half of the book, Skloot explains how her relationship with Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, transformed into a strong friendship. Skloot does a flawless job of connecting the creation of HeLa cells to the medical advancements, to the strong friendship she made with Deborah because of her decade long research that enriched Deborah's life. Rebecca Skloot’s goal in writing this story was to write a story of a woman who saved many lives. This however strays from her actual story. The story was bias toward the idea that taking Henrietta’s cells was wrong, that she kind of strayed from the story of Henrietta. When Rebecca started writing her story, she really focused on science; religion was not exactly her cup of tea. Yet, in the end, she only cared about Henrietta’s family. This is due to the fact that she got so close to Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, that she ended up completely being bias. She really leaned toward the idea that taking Henrietta’s cells without her consent or her family’s consent was wrong. This is important because it really changed the story from being that of what happened to Henrietta into a story of right and wrong. Commercialization of Cells
Skloot devotes a portion of the book explaining how the lacks family was never told about the experiments that Henrietta's cells went through, as well as the failure to get any form of consent from Henrietta to experiment with her cells. They strongly believe that they deserve compensation from the commercialization of Henrietta's cells. Because Skloot was so close to Deborah, she created a convincing argument to why the Lacks family deserve compensation. She explains how the family thought that they were being taken advantage of because they never received any compensation from the medical companies that were becoming very rich because of the mass distribution of HeLa cells. Skloot wanted us to lean that the ethics during this time regarding medical consent was not developed enough, and the Lacks deserve compensation. Allsusion

In reference to researchers knowingly exposing black
children to lead, "On appeal, one judge compared the study to Southam's HeLa injections, the Tuskegee study, and Nazi research..."(168)

Skloot includes this use of allusion in order to show that the wrong use of Henrietta's cells were not alone during this time. She uses these as comparisons in order to inform the reader that even though Henrietta's cells were distributed without her or her families consent, this was not the only traumatic event to happen regarding the ethics of the scientific community. Ethos


"Richard Wesley TeLinde... one of the top cervical cancer experts in the country...He'd pioneered the use of estrogen for treating symptoms of menopause and made important early discoveries about endometriosis." (26)

Rebecca Skloot includes this use of ethos in order to explain how renown of a doctor TeLinde was, and how Henrietta even got some of the best medical care in the country. Because he was so renown, he did everything that was possible to get rid of Henrietta's cancer, and even though she was African American, she still had the chance of seeing some of the best doctors regarding cervical cancer treatment. Tone

“(The Lacks) really had no idea what was going on, and they really wanted to understand” (192).

Tone is such a big deal in a paper. Although sometimes we don’t think so, it is. It’s like when you use sarcasm. No one can tell except by your tone. This is not necessarily hearing it from you. It could be word choice as well. For example, in the quote above Skloot says that the Lacks “wanted” to understand. She used this instead of saying maybe that they needed to understand. This gives us the idea that they WANT to learn about this but no one is willing to teach them. This is important because by saying they want to implies that they are being left out of everything that Is happening which, in some opinions, is not good. IMAGERY
'There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It's the late 1940s and she hasn't yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful…” (Opening Lines).

When we imagine things in our minds, we tend to understand them better. Someone can explain math to us all day yet we don’t understand it until we see it. Skloot uses imagery very well in this novel. This is important because when we read things it is kind of important to understand them. If we don’t understand what we are reading then what’s the point of even reading it? Skloot does an amazing job of giving us images of what she is seeing. Her word choice like “left corner torn” and “lips painted deep red” makes us see what she sees and in turn gives us a deeper understanding of the novel. Pathos
"In this case, something went wrong: in Henrietta's medical record, one of her doctors wrote, 'Told she could not have any more children.  Says if she had been told so before, she would not have gone through with treatment.' But by the time she found out, it was too late" (48).

Women are meant to reproduce, and as weird as that sounds, it’s true.
We are all looking for the one person so that we can start a family. Henrietta found love with her cousin and started a family. She loved children and wanted many of them. Most women have this want and a lot of them can’t have children. The fact that Skloot adds this is important because it appeals to pathos or, as we know it, emotion. Writers do this more often than we think and it makes us enjoy the writing much more. We tend to be much more interested and indulged in the writing. Because children are so important to most women, Skloot adds to this to make us feel sympathy for Henrietta because she can no longer have babies. Despite Rebecca Skloot's bias towards the Lacks family, Skloot does not forget science/logic altogether. She assures the reader of her respect for science, by naming all the beneficial contribution's of science and designates a good portion of the story acknowledging the point of view of researchers and scientists on the debate of tissue commercialization and whether or not a patient should have rights over their cells. Skloot appears to be looking for a happy medium between human rights and science. THE END!!
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