Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

Letter from the Editor:

Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

Letter from the Editor:

Article excerpt


Recently I read the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Henrietta was an African American Woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer on January 29, 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. A tissue sample was taken from her body, placed in a Petri dish, and to the surprise of everyone, it grew, and grew and grew. Generations of Henrietta's cells have been used in research for polio, cancer, cloning, genetics, HIV, and more. He La cells, named for an abbreviated Henrietta Lacks to protect her identity, are still used in scientific research.

The author does a brilliant job of connecting medical research and medical ethics. Henrietta is an impoverished African American female who received health care services at Hopkins, because it was the only hospital within 20 miles of her home willing to treat her. Segregation laws dictated public behavior regarding separation of people by race in public venues. When Henrietta signed an informed consent form for the surgery, she immediately gave her cell cultures to the world of medical research.

Skloot weaves the words of Holocaust survivor Ehe Wiesel onto the opening pages of the text to set a tone for human dignity. "We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph" (from The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code). Wiesel's words serve as a connection throughout the entire story, because anyone who has been inoculated against polio has a piece of Henrietta.

As Skloot tells the story of Henrietta's cells, she carefully connects her family to the reader. Through personal interviews, photographs, and home visits, the reader learns about Henrietta's children. Their lives in poverty continued. They did not break the cycle of poverty. They did not have a connection with the world of science that was helping so many people.

There are historical connections to be made within the text. Henrietta was buried in an unmarked grave in an all-Black cemetery, because there was no money for a headstone. …

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