Know that you know Henrietta Lacks and her family, how does Skloots portrayal of her death impact you?


Dylan Schwartz
05/18/2010 19:16

Yes, Skloot does a great job of personifying Henrietta. This, however, is nothing special since she personified a person. Every person has a family and loved ones that care about her. Knowing where she was born and how she was raised personally does not change my opinion on Henrietta's death. Call me heartless but I do not feel moved any more or less by knowing the Lacks family.

Nevertheless, it would be tough to say that dying of cancer is easy. One of the worst thoughts that come to mind when the C-word is mentioned is the slow, and agonizing death that the victim has to suffer. Knowing a few people that have had to suffer the same fate as Henrietta Lacks, I definitely feel for her and her family. Knowing the rest of her family, however, does not sway me as much as my own personal experience with the matter.

Mark Chaplin
05/19/2010 15:41

I completely disagree with Dylan's previous statement that knowing more background information on Henrietta's should not change someone's opinion on Henrietta's death. On page 86 in the book, Skloot talks about the wishes Henrietta has for her family after she dies (for example making sure her family is safe and taken care of). This background information allows myself to become more emotionally attached to Henrietta and the book because it shows a sense of a personification that cannot be directly true because Skloot was not there. Also on pages 16 and 17 when Skloot shows her chart and describes why Henrietta would not follow up on her treatments; this impacts me more deeply because it shows that she could have had a chance of preventing so many illnesses but she did not (because she didn't feel smart enough or couldn't leave home). These parts of the book allow me to open Henrietta the person not the cells into my life as well as it allows me to "enter hers".

Dylan Schwartz
05/19/2010 17:20

To elaborate on my earlier statements about how harsh dealing with cancer can be, the book can be brought to attention. On page 48 of the book it discusses how the radiation treatment has burnt Henrietta's skin almost to a crisp; this possibly occurred on the inside of her body when Henrietta stated that "it just feels like that blackness be spreadin all inside [her]" (Skloot 48).

Furthermore, according to, some side effects of modern cancer treatment include constipation, delirium, fatigue, nausea and vomitting, insomnia, hair loss, and decreased immune efficiency. These symptoms are present from the contributing factors of the growth and spread of the cancer in conjunction of the actual treatment.

Karina Leiter
05/19/2010 19:35

After reading "Death" in "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" I was most disturbed by the toll that the death took on Henrietta's children. For example on page 110, we see that Lawrence, her eldest soon, had to drop out of school and spend most of his time taking care of his siblings until he was drafted into the army. After he left, Ethel and Galen moved in to the house to take care of the Lacks children. They sexually, mentally, and physically abused these children. "Joe grew into the meanest, angriest child any Lacks had ever known" (Skloot 112). The death of Henrietta tore up her family and her children had to suffer and they ended up on wrong paths.

Henrietta's death really impacts me because I see that the after effects of her death seemed to be about as far as from what she wanted for her children and family as possible. From the little we learn about her in "life" we see that Henrietta was a selfless human being who didn't want her children and family to worry and suffer and that's why she didn't tell them of her illness until the very end, which even then most people still didn't know after the cause of her death. On page 111 Skloot tells us, "No one told Sonny, Deborah, or Joe what had happened to their mother, and they were afraid to ask... As far as the children knew their mother was there one day, gone the next". It seems to me that the Henrietta didn't want to die because she had a job on earth to take care of her family and she was not ready to give up that job, that's why she was working and cleaning to the end. Her death was so cold and sad and the fact that her own cousin Cootie says, "It sounds strange but her cells lived longer than her memory" (Skloot 118), is really shocking. Her own family just stopped talking to her until they too got wrapped up in her cells.

On a different note, later on in this part Skloot talks about the term "informed consent". I thought that it would be a very good question to think about whether or not "informed consent should apply in cases like Henriettas" (132). I doubt that Henrietta would have said no if the doctor had explained to her what he was doing and asked for her consent, but its about the morals of the whole situation. I became curious about the term and about Martin Salgo so heres a link so you can read more about it too.

Bharat Chandar
05/19/2010 20:00

Skloot makes a more convincing argument in chapter 21 that Johns Hopkins commited a great injustice to the Lacks family. In addition to the trauma caused by persistent white media members looking for a story, the Lackses suffer from a lack of knowledge about the situation, and most importantly, they suffer from various health issues that they cannot pay for.I was very skeptical before reading this part of the book about whether Johns Hopkins owed the Lackses anything, but after reading Skloot's interview with the family, I feel more sympathy.
Hopkins' history of mistreating the Black population (pg. 165-168) makes one wonder whether Henrietta's case was an incident of racism rather than just a question of bioethics. Also, it was fascinating that though he had known for about 30 years that his mother's cells had caused a medical revolution, Sonny really did not know what a cell was. For years, Hopkins withheld any information about the cells from the family.
Additionally, the Lackses suffer from various ailments that they cannot afford to treat, and they do not have health insurance. Day suffers from prostate cancer, Sonny has a bad heart, and Deborah suffers from depression (pg. 168-169). Ethically speaking, Hopkins owes the family recognition and should provide them with health insurance.

By the way, there is a Robert Louis Stevenson story called The Body-Snatcher that relates in many ways to the night doctors. It is about a guy who murders people and exhumes the dead and sells the bodies for research.

Katie Chaplin
05/19/2010 20:31

I completely agree with Karina's statement where she says that the damage that came from Henrietta's death most affected her family, changing the lives of her children forever. I would like to add to the children already mentioned and remind you all that one of the greatest victims was Henrietta's daughter Elsie. Once Henrietta passed away, no one would ever go to visit her at the insane asylum ever again. Henrietta's last visit to see her child would turn out to be her last, stated on page 84. Also, I agree with Karina in that what occurred as a result of Henrietta's death was the complete opposite of what she had wanted and had told Gladys on her death bed. On page 85, Henrietta says, "You make sure Day takes care of them children". On 86 she repeats, "Don't you let anything bad happen to them children when I'm gone". This shows the concern she holds for her children's futures, and she knows that without her, they will encounter problems in the future. Even today from researching articles and from the "life" portion of this novel, It is shown that her family still faces problems that act as a result of her death.

I also think that this portion of "death" spends a lot of time describing the accomplishments that have become available because of the HeLa cells and how great of an impact they have had throughout the world. Throughout pages 93 to 104 previous scientific goals are explained to have been reached because of HeLa cells, which ultimately are available because of Henrietta Lacks. I feel that people sometimes forget that none of these accomplishments would have occurred without Henrietta, which is why I think that Rebecca Skoot spends so much time humanizing Henrietta as much as she possibly can.

Skoot's impression of Henrietta's death, with her descriptive, graphic scenes of the biopsy and the funeral allow me to think more in the terms of Henrietta as a person. Henrietta's family, especially in Lacks Town, continues to be uneducated and unaware of what is even going on with HeLa cells and how important they have become, shown on page 81. Henrietta's death definitely allows me to feel remorse not just for her, but for those such as her family, who have to deal with their current state of living (uneducated, financial trouble, and their heritage) with a missing member of their family. Ultimately, her family suffers more than anyone else in the process of her death.

I thought this was interesting article from the Johns Hopkins Magazine, as they told the story of Henrietta’s life, giving her some recognition in their hospital’s magazine.

I also found an example of a Biology high school class studying the cells of Henrietta Lacks. They have created a website, or technically a blog to show what they have been doing. We might even be able to contact them and include them in our blog to get different perspectives on our chosen topics:

Ian Gonzalez
05/20/2010 14:11

The technique is classic, yet extremely effective even in the modern day. The author generates a feeling of empathy for a person by describing their life and their loved ones, which sets the reader up for devastation when that same person goes through a horrible and needless death. This is often emphasized by a vivid description of the subject’s pain.

Skloot is no exception. She follows these guidelines almost exactly. She sets us up for the fall by providing minor details about Henrietta’s life and describing those who she touched; the depiction of “Crazy Joe” (page 23), a boy who nearly killed himself in a frozen pond trying to get a date from Henrietta, is just one example of many. She also goes into detail about Henrietta’s children and the suffering they went through after her death at the hands of their cousin Ethel; she “beat them all bloody,” quite often (112). Skloot then describes the excruciating pain Henrietta had to go through before her death; she tells of the thrashing, pain-induced convulsions that she regularly went through as her multitudinous tumors displaced her vital organs (85). This juxtaposition is what caused me and other readers who have commented before me to feel such a strong sense of sadness when Henrietta dies.

Once again, I think Skloot has been successful in her concerted effort to emotionally attach us to and humanize Henrietta Lacks. While humanizing this woman and giving her the recognition she deserves is a noble endeavor, it is also important that we understand our manipulation at the hands of the author; a factor present in every work. Even though this is a work of nonfiction, the positioning of the various events is entirely intentional.

Ian Gonzalez
05/20/2010 14:12

(continued, sorry)

This is a review of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” It’s essentially very positive, and points out that this work is doing much to address bioethical and racial questions. It also says that it is doing much to bring her family peace; all true statements. But there’s an interesting line in there: the reviewer says that the biography “reads like a novel.” It’s stated in an offhand way, and is meant to be a compliment. But novels are fictional works which can easily be used to emotionally manipulate readers. So as you go through this book, try to maintain a little “Dylan” voice inside your head…not overpowering, but questioning. It’s the easiest way to make sure the opinion you form at the end of the book is based on both your thoughts and ideas and those that Skloot has presented.

James C.
05/20/2010 17:12

Undeniably, Skloot is trying to portray Henrietta’s death as vivid and humanly possible so the reader can feel empathy towards Henrietta. She is trying to humanize Henrietta so the reader can connect with Henrietta’s legacy and the conflicts it has brought to her family later on in the book. Skloot’s graphic and descriptive recounts of Henrietta’s pain caused by cancer allow us to have a brief glimpse into what Henrietta went through(46 - 48). This is evident by the first hand accounts from Mary, Gey’s assistant, when she “saw [Henrietta’s] toenails” and realized herself that “she’s a real person”(90 - 91).

As Ian stated, Skloot beautifully orchestrates Henrietta’s life to prepare us for the inevitable death just like any other “hero” in most novels. I cannot deny that Henrietta’s death didn’t “move” me at first; however, Ian’s comment has made me realize that she is again trying to make her “bigger than life” as other people have commented in class discussions and in the previous blog posting. Yet, I still feel the most sympathy for Henrietta because she had to deal with the slow death of cancer like Dylan said. Amongst us all, I think we have at least known one person who has suffered the hardships and pain caused by cancer.

Furthermore, in response to the other comments about Skloot writing the book purely for profit and gain, I had the same question in my mind about this issue. I took it upon myself to do further research of whether or not Skloot and her publishers are benefiting from the book while the family still does not receive anything. I manage to stumble upon another blog by a woman who “went to a talk given by Rebecca Skloot” and says that “part of the proceeds [from the book] go to a foundation established by Skloot for the Lackses”. So if you are still wondering, some of your money goes to help the Lackses. Nevertheless, the blog does not state how much of the book’s cost goes to the foundation.

On a further note of bioethics and cells, today marks a “revolution” in the scientific field because of the discovery of the first “synthetic cell”. This cell constructed through artificial means in a lab has successfully “awakened [like] Frankenstein, the new genome invigorated the host cell, which began to grow and reproduce”. The discovery is certainly a great leap in the field of cell culture since scientist already have begun predicting the uses of the cell and testing it the same way HeLa cells were upon discovery . However, the “synthetic cell” has created a vast amount of controversy over the possible exploitation of it. Whatever might happen with this cell(s), its potential to advance scientific research is unquestionable and may even replace HeLa cells uses in labs.

Joshua Robins
05/20/2010 17:22

Divide Dylan's Ideologies about Henrietta and her family by 10 and you will get my perspective on Skloot's portrayal of "Death." Even people from broken homes have atleast one or two people that love and care for them. For the Lacks family it was Bobbette. But the scientist did wrong the family when they took the cells from Henrietta. Day did'nt want them to do a topsy on Henrietta, so the scientist told him that the topsey will help his children. Most of the family does'nt even have health insurance, so I highly doubt the topsy benefited that family in any way shape or form. But I do believe Skoot takes this scientist villanizing too far when she adds in that it was believed that Johns Hopkins was built in a poor area because the "black people" resource was very abundant. She does a good job of neutraling it out by stating that "It was built for the benefit of Baltimore's poor (Skloot 166). Even with that save by Skloot, I'm still not convinced that she is completely neutral in the Lacks vs. scientist feud, but I also still belive that Johns Hopkins should help out the Lacks family medically not because they have to by law, but because it is morally correct.

John Tripodo
05/20/2010 18:46

Skloot does an effective job of creating empathy for Henrietta and the Lacks family. On page 85 and 86, Henrietta states that she would like her children to be well looked after and happy, Skloot proceeds to tell us about how her family was split after her death. Tactics such as this are useful when trying to convince a reader.

Skloot did well to convince me of the unfairness of certain parts of Henrietta's life. As much as I'd like to be on Henrietta's side, I'm still a skeptic when it comes to the bio-ethics of the book.

Noah Friedman
05/20/2010 19:06

I agree with Ian. Skloot obviously is no foreigner to effective literary technique; she spent 10 years on this book, if it did not convey a ridiculous amount of empathy, I would be very surprised.
Here's a cool article that is directly related:

"Who has the right to feel?: the ethics of literary empathy"

It discusses the ethics of all literature since all authors who write anything are affected by biases. I says that in order to truly understand the representation of characters and events would be for people to only write biographies, with their only readers being themselves.

Any foreign author or reader brings personal bias into a work. It is impossible to have the true understanding of the events described unless you are literally the person who they happened to AND the person who wrote the book... so its impossible to be able to truly understand the events of any book. I actually think that is a really cool idea, Ive never gone about thinking about books like this.

However, now that I have, I think this is the perfect mindset to go into Skloots' book with. You have to accept that NOBODY could write, or read, this (or any) book without bias. Just have to take it with a grain of salt! Decide your positions and opinions based on the facts you read, and not by the emotions that the author is skillfully able to instill in you.

Noah Friedman
05/20/2010 19:08


Andrew Holtz
05/20/2010 19:22

I completely agree with John. Skloot does an excellent job of creating empathy for Henrietta and her family. Skloot also draws you in to the type of family background and upbringing that Henrietta went through. This creates sorrowness and sympathy for Henrietta's situation. Skloot's portray of Henrietta's death impacts me in an awkward way. The way Henrietta's death is portrayed makes me fell horrible. The way I see it is that Skloot's point of writing the book is to make the reader realize that Henrietta has meant more to life now that she is dead than if she were to still be alive. That is absolutely awful to say about someone but the fact of the matter is, that is the truth. I mean if Henrietta never went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the doctors would have never discovered HeLa cells. What is also amazing is the fact that Henrietta had Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Cancer and here cells still managed to live.

Jasmin Oliveira
05/20/2010 20:03

Throughout the novel, Skloot’s offers the reader a descriptive image of society during the 1900’s. Navigating back and forth from the intimate tale about the Lacks family to more of a factual account emphasizing scientific research, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks leads the reader to encounter a devastating story. Skloot’s portrayal of Henrietta’s death definitely allows a sense of sympathy to develop towards the Lack’s family in the reader’s perspective. I agree with Karina who states how the toll that the death had on Henrietta’s children, is very upsetting. From Skloot’s description in “Death” about the pain that the children and the family are dealing through (chapter 15), I developed a great compassion towards the family and think that the John Hopkins Hospital should recognize them or at least assist them to afford health insurance.
Since Skloot’s tries to humanize every aspect of Henrietta’s life, her vivid descriptions of her death really brought a tremendous feeling of sadness. When Dr. Wilbur and Gey’s assistant, Mary, perform an autopsy on Henrietta’s body, Mary is shocked when she sees Henrietta’s toenails and states, “It hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working on for all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live women. I’d never thought of it that way” (91). When the assistant realizes this, I was struck by a sense of grief of how people saw Henrietta as just a source of immortal cells rather than a human being. I agree with Karina statements of how Henrietta is a selfless woman who wants the best for her family and children. She is so devoted to make her family happy that at first, she does not tell them about her illness so that they would not worry about her. Thus, Skloot’s portrayal of Hernrietta’s death and the impact it had on her children (110) creates a strong feeling of sorrow. After Henrietta’s death, Day is working two jobs and Lawrence drops out of school to take care of his brothers and sister, Deborah. The children suffer a great deal and as Ian said their cousin Ethel “beat them all bloody,” quite often (112). This impacted me because Henrietta’s wish is that “Day takes care of them children”(85) but Ethel’s actions are extremely horrible and are just hurting Henrietta’s children. Also, reading about their devastating situation in terms of their uneducated, financially troubled, and emotionally hurt by the loss of a family member, adds to deep sadness in the book.
I thought this was an interesting article relating to the life on Henrietta Lacks and her family:

Sarah Rutland
05/20/2010 20:25

Take the movie Titanic for example. When the ship plunges into the icy ocean, sinks below the surface, and takes with it anonymous passengers engulfed by the waters, the viewer is taken aback, yes. However, at this point, most people are biting their nails wondering where Jack and Rose are among the floating debris. The viewer sees countless people subjected to the same, unfortunate -yet inevitable- fate, but the typical reaction is: ehhh. On the contrary, let me show you this scene.

Rose: [letting go of Jack's hand] I'll never let go, Jack. I promise.
[she kisses his hand and watches him sink, almost falling apart before she finally climbs back into the water to signal the lifeboat for rescue]

At this point, I have seen many strong-willed people reduced to a puddle of tears. Why?

It is because the viewer has developed a deeper connection with that character. When the character is lost, the audience feels such sympathy because they feel that they are at a personal loss as well.

This same concept is aptly applied throughout the first half of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Specifically, in chapter 11, the reader walks with Henrietta through her final stages of life. We see on page 83 her family rushing to frantically give blood to Henrietta when they discover that her care is being stopped. We experience, on page 84, Henrietta’s final, intimate moments with her daughter, Elsie. We continue to see her health deteriorate, her mind wither, and her pain worsen. Finally, on page 86, Henrietta gives a tearful goodbye and the reader is told of her passing. Here, we feel a pang of sadness for the loss of Henrietta. Through these pages, we have been experienced all stages of her life: birth in the “home-house”; growth and a playful youth; development as strong woman and mother; finally, a painful death. As most of my classmates have pointed out, we have grown close to Henrietta through Skloot’s words. To watch Henrietta pass away is painful- like loosing a friend we have just met.

Neil Mehta
05/20/2010 20:33

Much like the first section of this book “Life”, Skloot continues to cause readers to feel sympathy by re-enacting the Lacks family’s life through writing. She does this by providing details of the Lackses life, years after Henrietta’s death and how this greatly affected the family in a negative way. In my opinion, Deborah seemed to be the most affected, especially when it came to Deborah suffering from Galen’s abuses, much of which was sickening and completely wrong. On page 114 for example, Galen tries to force Deborah in the car most likely to abuse and molest her, however, this is nothing compared to the major offense Galen attempts described in full detail later in “Death”. Although at certain points I feel that in-depth detail of Henrietta’s family is unnecessary to the meaning of the book, I respect the fact that Skloot portrays that Henrietta was an actual person before the experiments by telling the story of her entire family and Henrietta’s influence on them during her short life. Although I was skeptical that Skloot had a bias against the hospital, I was proven otherwise when Skloot gave a detailed account of how Johns Hopkins was formed for the benefit of the poor detailed on pages 166 & 167.

I agree with Mark regarding how the details of the Lacks family and the death emotionally attached me to the story. Henrietta’s meaning to life was more than just the contribution of HeLa cells; she was the backbone of her own family, and when she died her family suffered.

Curious about laws regarding to patents on human life, I found an interesting story of a man named John Moore. At the University of California, doctors removed cancerous spleen cells from his body which were later used to create valuable proteins. UC was able to patent his cells and make millions of dollars. Later, when John Moore asked for his cells to be returned, he was denied because the California Supreme Court believed he did not own his own cells after they were removed from his body.
Read the article here:

Here’s a useful image of all the things HeLa cells have been used for from the 1950s to present day:

Alex Brody
05/20/2010 21:41

Skloot continues to cause readers to feel sympathy through this section much like she did in “life.” However, she creates more empathy for Henrietta’s family than just Henrietta. Her death impacted the family immensely, and the side affects seemed immortal. Cliff still expressed his anger decades later when Skloot visited him to learn more of Henrietta’s life since he was like a brother to her; “They named them HeLa! And they still living!”(122) Her death left them miserable and the immortality of her cells left them confused. Her children suffered with her death. Lawrence had to drop out, take care of the family and ended up joining the army. Deborah was abused sexually and mentally by Galen and Day would not protect her. “She tried to tell Day when Galen touched her in ways she didn’t think he was supposed to, but Day never believed her.”(113) “Deborah didn’t know she had a sister for much of her childhood. When Day finally told her, all he said was that Elsie was deaf and dumb and she’d die in an institution when she was fifteen. Deborah was devastated.”(117) Day’s lack of care for his children left all of them helpless and unable to defend themselves. I agree with Karina, they were emotionally torn without their mother and their lives changed forever.

Skloot’s portrayal of Henrietta’s death left me empathetic for not only her but for her family. This showed, as Skloot was trying to convey, that Henrietta was not only impactful because of her cells but also impactful too her family. In attempt to humanize her, Skloot describes the pain and suffering resulting to Henrietta’s family after her death, portraying her powerful personality and how her family fell apart without her. As Neil stated, she was the backbone to her family.

Henrietta made it her duty to care for her family. For this reason she told no one of her diagnosis until she realized she was going to die. She cared for them and did everything she could until she was unable to leave the hospital. After reading “life” and some of “death” I have come to realize Henrietta’s great character through Skloot’s detailed writing. She was not only a driving force in the world of science but also a driving force amongst her community and family.

This article in the Smithsonian magazine online answers questions about Henrietta as well as questions directed towards Skloot like: “How did you (Skloot) first get interested in this story?”

This website gives a brief overview about everything involving HeLa cells, such as why they are immortal, what they are, and Henrietta Lacks.

Eduardo Rangel
05/21/2010 01:52

“So, the woman whose cells were used to cure polio, her family can’t afford health insurance. Can they afford irony insurance?”

This is a quote taken from an interview of Rebecca Skloot on the Colbert Report. You might look at this quote and laugh, but if you truly understand the reality behind it, laughter shouldn’t be your first response.
For the rest of the interview:

Skloot creates an aura of respect and empathy around Henrietta Lacks as she describes her death at the end of the “life” part of her book. “Two days later, Henrietta awoke terrified, disoriented, wanting to know where she was and what the doctors had been doing to her”(85). Because of Skloot’s portrayal of Henrietta’s helplessness before her death, we become attached to her character, much like Sarah said using her Titanic analogy before.

As Karina also showed before, I also think that because Skloot incorporates Henrietta’s family into this emotional melting pot, she gains the ability to draw in the reader emotionally as well. As seen later on in the “death” part of the book, Sonny subtly shows how much his mother’s death has affected him: “‘Her cells growin big as the world, cover round the whole earth,’ he said, his eyes tearing as he waved his arms in the air, making a planet around him”(161). Karina has more quotes and specifics referring to the impact that Henrietta’s death had on the family, especially on Deborah, Joe, Sonny and Lawrence.

I do feel however that this part of the novel blends in much more scientific stories than the previous “life” section. The reader at first might speculate that all of this science mumbo jumbo will degrade our emotional connection with Henrietta and her family, but really it only makes it stronger.

We are able to see the accomplishment of Henrietta’s cells all over the world, such as creating a stronger doctor-patient confidentialities and consents: “‘We trust that this measure of discipline will serve as a stern warning that zeal for research must not be carried to the point where it violates the basic rights and immunities of a human person”’ (135). Because Skloot takes her time in describing all of the scientific aspects of Henrietta’s cells, we, as readers, become proud of the work that Henrietta brought to this world. We become able to understand how proud Henrietta’s family is of her, and so this creates a stronger impact as we think of Henrietta’s life and death.

Rebecca Skloot has a blog in which she keeps her readers up to date in her latest accomplishments regarding this book.
If you are interested:

Also, there is another good interview of Rebecca Skloot on Tavis Smiley (Courtesy of Ms. Borchers) if you would like to see her answer more questions about her book.

Khadijah Stephen
05/21/2010 03:58

I completely agree with Sarah in her analogy to the Titanic. As we continue reading this book, we continue delving into Henrietta’s life, thus developing a deeper emotional connection to her. Hence, the title of this the book IS called THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, not The Extraordinary Hela Cells. Rebecca Skloot continues to not just humanize Henrietta, but draw you in as the reader in terms of which sympathy, respect, and appreciation are leveled accordingly for Henrietta and members of the Lacks family. Although Rebecca has accomplished this in part one on multiple accounts, for instance on pg. 90 and 91, Mary Kubicek, an assistant at John Hopkins said, "'When I saw those toenails I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we'd been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I'd never thought of it that way.” Part 2- The Death of Henrietta is just as impactful, if not more.
What kills me is to read the horrible childhood her kids had. Here’s a selfless mother, who died an agonizing and painful death, was disrespected and uncared for at John Hopkins, I would hope her children could at least live a normal childhood without their mother, but it obviously doesn’t happen. We cannot ignore the fact that along the side of growing up without their mother, they were also growing up in an extremely racist country where because the color of your skin you are thought of on the same level as a dog, where because the color of your skin you were denied access to a hospital and the staff would rather let you die than them try to help you. On top of the racial injustice, they were essentially treated like slaves by Ethel, Deborah was constantly physically and sexually abused by Galen, even in the eye witness of her father pg. 115, and they basically lived the lives no child should ever go through.
I’d also like to bring up the point that Day suffers from prostate cancer, Sonny has a bad heart, and Deborah suffers from depression (pg. 168-169) and they all have hearing problems according to Deborah pg.115. Bharat said, “Ethically speaking, Hopkins owes the family recognition and should provide them with health insurance” and I agree with his statement 100%. Although Hopkins did not sell Hela cells for a profit, they are the leading people responsible for the dispersion of her cells and I think a hospital would be more than happy to treat the family of the woman who made a vast breakthrough in the science and the medical industry.

John Tripodo
05/21/2010 07:57

Henrietta's death effected her family extremely negativley. Even after she explicitly stated that she would like her family to stay together and be well looked after even when she was dead. (85-86) Her daughter, Deborah was sexually and physcially abused by Galen. The rest of her family was split between various family members.(115)Skloot effectivley creates the image of the selfless mother, wanting the best for her children to the end. Only to describe to us after he death of the horrible splits and actions that happened to her family and children as a direct result of her death.We see the importance of Henrietta to her family and freinds when they learn of her need for blood, and go rushing to donate for her.(pg 83)

Like Ian said, skloot used a regular tactic to bring us close to Henrietta. Only to have her tragiclly die in circumstances where her treatment could certainly have been improved. The benefits her cells gave the human race is another reason why it would be justified to thik about the unfairness of certain parts of the situation.

Skloot was certianly effective in creating sympathy and empathy for the situation of Henrietta and her family in the past and modern times. Though I don't believe they have any legal rights to money, they should be given health insurance or some percent for the reason of pure morality. Page 90 and 91 are great examples of how humanizing a person really changes the persepective of the individual.

05/22/2010 07:15

Here's the link to a video recording Skloot's book tour. Interestingly, in this video the Lacks family were present and were able to participate in a book signing with Ms.Skloot.

Did you know the family has their own website?!?

Check out:

05/22/2010 07:18

You can also e-mail the family at:

Noah Friedman
05/23/2010 14:23

It is important to recognize the biases that we encounter in our everyday lives. I should hope that history books chosen by our private school are relatively factual and without much bias, but this is not such a comfort that can be had by many students across the country. For example, lately, the conservative revisions of history textbooks in Texas. Although the challenging of Darwinism, and the history of the separation of church and state in America, may be more radical than the biases that we encounter in our day to day lives, it is important to be aware of the biases that affect almost everything we see, read, and hear.

The idea behind DBQ's is an interesting one because, it essentially provides the student, or whomever, with facts, history, and raw evidence coming from different perspectives. Then you get to see how different the responses of the students turn out, and how differently they all interpret the raw evidence that is given to them, to synthesize things that can be completely different. And, excluding a "missing perspective", could potentially change an entire response.
I think this concept is a very provocative one.


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