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Self: A Matter of Opinion

May 14, 2012

Rebecca Skloot writes about a woman she has never met in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Mrs. Lacks died of cervical cancer. Before her death, doctors took cancerous cells from her cervix for research purposes. These cells never died and were used to discover many things that would benefit the medical world, including the vaccine for polio. Through tiresome research and investigation Skloot discovers the truth behind Henrietta Lacks, her family, and the doctors that made her cells a legacy.

In my opinion, every “self” begins with cells. Miniature, tiny things that human’s can’t see without a microscope. As these cells divide and produce new cells over and over again, a human, and thus a self, forms. The cells are like a seed. They grow and grow until out pops a tiny plant. Humans grow into their “self” with environmental factors, such as what their parents teach them, what they eat, where they live, and what they do as they grow. Like a plant, they will grow and achieve greatness if nourished, but will shrivel and die if sustenance is withheld.

Our self is a melting pot of everything external and internal. Internal would be genetics, hormone levels, brain chemistry, or anything going on underneath the surface that affects who we are. In contrast, external factors are everything that have been put into this person, from what they have been taught, how they style their hair, or however the world has influenced them.

When our selves die, we become only a memory. The people we held dear before death cherish memories from when we are alive. I will not address what I believe happens to souls, bodies, or anything similar after death, but I do believe a person is kept alive in pictures, memories, home videos, and stories no matter what belief’s someone has. Although their “self” is gone, a loved one will never truly be gone from this earth until memories cease to exist.

However, Skloot explores different meanings of self. Not everyone will agree that self is only when a human is living. For example, Deborah, the daughter of Henrietta, believes her mother is alive during her autopsy and can feel every cut, scrape, or pinch. Her mother is in pain, even if she is a corpse. I believe her cells and her being are gone, unaware of any sensations in the world. She is no longer a “self”. The lawsuit between Moore and Golde makes me think about my beliefs because I can see both sides of the story. (For a summary of this case visit here I can agree with Moore or Golde since I see value in both of their arguments. A perspective I do agree with is by some of the scientists. They contend that because the genes have been altered in the majority of HeLa cells, they are no longer Henrietta. Since the genetics are different, the internal causes of self are totally different than Henrietta’s causes. Her “self” has been altered and is no longer hers.

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