HeLa Reading Log

HeLa Reading Log


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is divided into three parts: Life, Death, and Immortality. As you read the book, use the questions below to guide your thoughts and ideas and note any dates or events you feel are important to understanding the information in each section.

Part 1: Life
Chapters 1 through 11

Henrietta and her family had a distrust of medical doctors and hospitals. What led them to feel that way?







The author, Rebecca Skloot, had a hard time getting Henrietta’s family, especially her children, to trust her. Why?







How do you think the Lacks’ lives might have been different had Henrietta’s doctors asked for and gotten informed consent from her family before gathering her cells for research?







Part 2: Death
Chapters 12 through 22

George Gey, the first doctor who grew HeLa cells, wanted to keep Henrietta’s identity private, so he created the pseudonym Helen Lane. Why did he want to protect her identity?













In chapter 17, a virologist, Chester Southam, wondered if scientists working with Henrietta’s cells could get cancer from handling the cells. What did he do to test the theory that cancer was caused by a virus or immune system deficiency?










What is the Nuremberg Code and why was it established?












Part 3: Immortality
Chapters 23 through 38

The Lacks had no idea that their mother’s cells had been harvested and used in research until 25 years or so after her death. The family was devastated to learn this and had no understanding of what happened or why. How do you think this could have been avoided? What responsibilities did the medical researchers, Johns Hopkins, and other institutions have toward the family?








Through research using HeLa cells, scientists discovered what made these cells immortal. What did they discover?












In the Afterword, Skloot discusses the ongoing debates among medical scientists, lawyers, ethicists, and others. Some feel it is the right of every person to have a say-so in how their cells are used or not used for research. Others believe it is everyone’s obligation as members of society to donate (without compensation) their tissues for the good of society because that is how new drugs and treatments are discovered. What do you think?





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