Literature Study GuidesThe Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide." Course Hero. 11 Aug. 2017. Web. 2 July 2022. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, August 11). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 2, 2022, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide." August 11, 2017. Accessed July 2, 2022.


Course Hero, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide," August 11, 2017, accessed July 2, 2022,


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks infographic thumbnail


Rebecca Skloot

Year Published





Drama, Nonfiction

At a Glance

The book's story starts in the 1950s, when doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, Maryland, operated on Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman in her 30s who had cervical cancer. When doctors biopsied or removed groups of cells from her tumor (an abnormal growth of cells that destroys body tissue) to study, they used the removed tissue to grow more cells. These cells, nicknamed HeLa after the patient, turned out to be the first immortal cells scientists had encountered, and they used the cells to launch a multimillion-dollar industry that provides human biological products, including cells and tissue, to researchers.

Many decades later, science journalist Rebecca Skloot investigates the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her permission. Skloot develops a close relationship with the Lacks family, who never knew scientists were using Henrietta's cells and received no compensation for their use. Scientists also involved Henrietta's children in their research through medical testing without any explanation or compensation. With the release of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot starts a foundation to help Henrietta Lacks's relatives and others who are exploited and neglected by the medical industry.

Skloot's book raises bioethical issues, including informed consent, corporate profiteering, and the treatment of poor and African American patients and their families. Many epidemiology classes (study of incidence, distribution, and control of disease) and labs now require students and scientists to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to understand the ethical and legal issues involved in research using human tissue. The book is also widely used in advanced degree programs in a wide range of disciplines for courses on human subject research ethics.

Perspective and Narrator

Skloot becomes involved in the narrative of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. As a result, the story alternates between a first-person peripheral reporter's point of view of events in which she participates and a third-person point of view when she narrates the Lacks family history.

About the Title

Although Henrietta Lacks died in 1951, her cervical cancer cells are immortal because they have the ability to live in test tubes. Researchers continue to study them, and they form the backbone of a multimillion-dollar biological products industry.


This study guide and infographic for Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks offer summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

Buy this book from
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!