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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, pp 49-136 1. Chapter 6 of this book opens

by | Nov 24, 2021 | English and Literature : English | 0 comments


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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, pp 49-136
1. Chapter 6 of this book opens with a discussion between Skloot and Roland Patillo, an African-American Professor of gynecology at Moorhouse School of Medicine, “one of the oldest historically black colleges in the country” (49). Why does Skloot call Professor Patillo and why is he skeptical about putting Skloot in contact with Deborah Lacks? What is the list of dos and dont’s he gives to Skloot about how to communicate with Deborah. When Skloot does make the call she tells us that she wasn’t expecting the response she got:
“Deborah crammed a lifetime of information into a manic and confusing forty-five minutes that jumped without warning, and in no particular order, from the 1920s to the 1990s (much like this book!), from stories of her father to her grandfather, cousins, mother, and total strangers” (52).
What does this conversation and the ones between Skloot and Patillo and Skloot and Deborah’s other family members tell us about the tenuous relationship that can exist between a journalist and the individuals upon whom she must rely to get information? How does this conversation prepare us to understand “evidence” through the lens of trauma and memory?
2. Do some research on the Tuskegee syphilis study (Skloot brings it up on p.50). What is the study? When did it happen? What happened? How did the scandal impact the relationship between African-Americans and health care in the United States? What connections can you see between this study and the treatment that Henrietta Lacks received for her cancer (see Ch. 8, 11, 12 especially). What did you learn from reading about this event in American History? What did you feel?
–For information, you can listen to the podcast episode “Tuskegee Syphilis Study Part 1: The Lie”  (Links to an external site.)and “Tuskegee Syphilis Study Part 2: The Truth” (Links to an external site.)
–You can also read about it here: (Links to an external site.)
3. Chapter 7: who is George Gay? Who is Alexis Carrel? What is a eugenicist? When were these men doing their work and why, given some of the events of the time (like lynching and segregation), does the public relationship to their work matter? What broader institutional support was at play in the work of these two men? How does this chapter reflect Skloot’s concluding words, “Tissue culture was the stuff of racism, creepy science fiction, Nazis, and snake oil. It wasn’t something to be celebrated. In fact, no one paid much attention to it at all” (62).
4. The Chapter titled “Turner Station” (9) is all about the difficulty that Skloot has getting access and information, culminating in her decision to go to Clover, “an old plantation town in southern Virginia, where some of Henrietta’s relatives still seemed to live” (75). This decision reflects the researcher’s discovery that a story cannot be told without going “further back” in the history of that story. But “Turner Station” also reflects the fundamental need for researchers to commit, not simply to gathering facts, but also to the complex behaviors and psychologies of people whose experiences are not your own. Examine how “history” in this chapter (and beyond) comes into conversation with the people impacted by it.
5. Chapter 10: What does Skloot find in Clover?
6. What is “The Storm” referenced in Chapter 12 and why is it such a powerful metaphor?
7. The Tuskegee Center appears again in “Chapter 13: The HeLa Factory.” What connection does the Center have to the HeLa factory and why does it matter? How does the HeLa “craze” lead to the expansion of tissue culture?
8.  What role does the media play in Chapter 14 in bringing attention to “Helen Lane” and in creating misinformation surrounding Henrietta Lacks?
9. Chapter 15-16: Why does Skloot write about the dysfunction that arose in the family after Lacks died? 
10. Chapter 17 opens with a disturbing account of Black patients who were lied to about their role in cancer experiments conducted by virologist Chester Southam. How does this paternalistic treatment of Black subjects play out in the rest of the chapter’s focus on the “ethical crackdown” that did nothing to slow “scientific progress.” What, then, was this ethical crackdown about?


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