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Questions from the Book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Question: After reading chapter 27, do you think that research manipulating DNA should be allowed? Explain your answer.


Yes, the research should be allowed. The author explains that HeLa cells were used in AIDS research, giving important insight into the way the Aids virus behaved in the body. The HeLa cells helped discover that normal cells cannot divide indefinitely, but mutated cells have this ability because the DNA part called telomeres in chromosomes don’t wear out, and they keep renewing DNA STRINGS. (Skloot 2013)This important discovery was made possible by the study of HeLa cells. This scientific breakthrough is the basis for genetic engineering. Although there has been a lot of controversy on the ethics behind this, the benefits for mankind are huge, as we see today.

Question: Were the consequences of increased recognition of Henrietta positive or negative for Lacks Family? Explain your opinion.


Scientific acceptance of the uniqueness of Henrietta’s cells had a bad impact on her family. The reason is that the family was misinformed and ignorant of what the scientific community had discovered about Henrietta’s cells. Deborah is frightened as one journalist gives her the idea that her mother’s cells were cloned and she might bump into one of those clones. They even thought that the living cells could cause her mother pain when treated with chemicals during experiments. Medical records that were family property were released to a reporter without family consent, making the family very angry (Greely and Cho, 2013)… The popularity of the Henrietta cells turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, yet the family could not even afford to pay for their own medication due to poverty. It is only when the author publishes her book that the family finally gets recognition. The author even takes them to forums where her book is featured to talk to the public. She also sets up a family foundation to at least have them get some money in return after being ignored for so long.

Question: In chapter 29, When Rebecca reaches for the medical records Deborah snapped (p. 239) “We ain’t ready for that!” What does that response mean to you? What does it tell you about Deborah’s feelings?


It means that Deborah was still reservedly angry and suspicious of the author as she did not know her well enough to allow her into her personal life.

Deborah has been hurt and confused by the media and the scientists before. She is frustrated because, as her husband tells the author on the phone, the family has not been compensated for the use of HeLa cells in research (Callaway, 2013). She feels violated and sad and is not ready to show and explain her mother’s medical records to the author just yet. The author had just exposed the hypocrisy of the scientists, especially how Dr. McKusick obtained their blood by false pretense, making her not know who to trust anymore, and she is still processing the new information.

Question: Why does Zakariyya have so much trouble with anger?


Zakariyya had been abused by Ethel, who had hated her mother and severely mistreated him and his siblings. The abuse he got made him grow up full of rage. He even thinks of himself as mean for having survived in his mother’s womb with the cancer cells in there (Hofmann, 2015). Zakariyya was known for being a violent man full of hatred for those who came seeking to talk about his mother, especially those who took HeLa cells and tricked them into giving their blood without full information. He tells the author how they were exploited and that people had made a lot of money with their mother’s cells while the family remained so poor they could not afford Medicare.

Question: Please paraphrase paragraph 3 on page 211. It starts with” today, publishing medical records….”Use the technique you have learned from doing assignments. Change vocabulary and sentence structure. Remember, no more than three words in a row can be the same as the original.


Nowadays, it is against federal law to make someone’s medical records public before you get their consent. No such law existed when Gold received Henrietta’s recorded medical history at the beginning of the eighties. Maryland did not have laws requiring consent before publishing medical records, although several states that actually exceeded thirty in number had such laws.


Callaway, E. (2013). The deal did over HeLa cell line. Nature500(7461), 132-133.

Greely, H. T., & Cho, M. K. (2013). The Henrietta Lacks legacy grows. EMBO reports 14(10), 849-849.

HOFMANN, C. (2015). Testifying by Proxy: A Trauma Studies Approach to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture258, 153.

Skloot, R. (2013). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, the sequel. New York Times23.



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