|Henrietta Lacks — her fictional HBO character (left) and the real woman behind the cells that changed science. HBO/Harvard University|
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.
When you get surgery or have a mole removed, and there’s leftover tissue or blood, there’s a chance that it might not be discarded. It might live on in a lab somewhere, available to researchers, unbeknownst to you. Your doctors didn’t ask you if you wanted to donate your cells. They didn’t have to. As long as your specimens are “de-identified” — meaning your name and other personal information are no longer attached to them anymore — they’re fair game.This practice went on for decades without much controversy — until the bestselling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot came along in 2010. The story sparked a debate among the public, researchers, and bioethicists about whether this practice is ethical — and whether the benefits to science truly outweigh the potential harms to individuals whose donations may come back to haunt them.
It saddens me- the many contributions black people had made that we don't even know about; stories that are not in history books. If I ever have children, they will know everything about black people that are not in the history books. I will educate them myself.