Biology professor Laurie Foster recently hosted an Honors Biology breakfast, where they discussed Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The book explores the history of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer known to scientists as HeLa. Her 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, in vitro fertilization and more. While her cells have been bought and sold by the billions, she remains virtually unknown, and her family still lives in poverty.
Students engaged in a rich discourse about the collision of ethics, race and medicine. This is a story that is forever connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, and the birth of bioethics.