The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks INTRODUCTION
Read-Write-Think “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph” - Elie WieselWhat are your thoughts on what Wiesel says? How doyou think this may impact our understanding of thetext?
The Author: Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is her debut book. She researched and interviewed the subject for over a decade. Became interested in the subject of HeLa cells in high school.
Narrative Structure The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is written in what is called a “braided narrative” Work begins with two of more separate narratives, or stories. While they seem unrelated at first, they eventually join up The novel contains three unique narratives – the story of Henrietta’s life, the story of the science behind the HeLa cells and the story of the family Henrietta left behind. Each of these narratives is narrated by a separate “voice” – including the author’s and Henrietta’s friends and family.
Important Issues… Medical ethics and informed consent In 1951, Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to have doctors examine an aggressive form of cervical cancer. During her examination, two samples of cell tissue were taken from Henrietta – one healthy sample and one cancerous sample – without her consent. These tissues were sent to researchers and – just so happened – to change the face of science. However, the Lacks family was never told of this. This was common practice in the 1950s, since many doctors believed that those patients being treated in the public wards of the hospital COULD be used for medical research. Currently, this is not a practice used in hospitals as we are required to give “informed consent” if hospitals plan to use parts of “us” in medical experimentation
Important Issues continued… Racism Henrietta lived almost 20 miles away from Johns Hopkins Hospital, but was forced to go there, instead of hospitals closer to her house because they were the hospital in the area that treated African American patients. • How would Henrietta’s treatment differed if she was white? • Would they have taken cell samples without her consent? • Would they have told her and her family about the successful growth of her cells in culture and how they advanced scientific discoveries?
Why should you care? The Top Ten Reasons Law & Order used it for the basis of an episode Henrietta’s story has shaped the ethical process in medicine. HeLa cells were the first ever cloned and helped develop the Polio vaccine. We use HeLa cells in research throughout the world More than 60 critics named The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as one of the Best Books of 2010. Her cells were commercialized and have generated MILLIONS of dollars in profit for the medical world (but, interestingly enough, NOT her own family who lives in poverty.) The story is being adapted into an HBO film. In 1960, Henrietta’s cells went up in the second satellite ever in orbit. If all the HeLa cells that have been produced were weighted, they would add up to 50 million metric tons and if laid out, they would wrap around the earth 3 times. According to Wired, HeLA cells are the most popularly used cell lines for research.http://www.smu.edu/Provost/Ethics/CommonReading/CommonReading2011