The mission of Concordia University, St. Paul, a university of The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, is to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living, for dedicated service to God and humanity, for enlightened care of God's creation, all within the context of the Christian Gospel.
September 2011 Archives
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is about the challenges and triumphs shared between the author and the Lacks family as they each took on the mission to discover the true story of Henrietta and the HeLa cells. HeLa cells happen to be the first cells to be cultured in the world. They were shipped worldwide for researches, rocketed to the moon, and in the end, were used for various cures and vaccinations. Many people in and around the medical science field were affected by the availability of these cells, including the millions of patients whose lives were saved in the process of research and discovery, but no one knew the true story behind HeLa cells, nor did they have any reason to seek out one. It seems that throughout their lifetime the cells have always been thought of as nothing more than cells. When doctors refer to them as HeLa cells, instead of human cells, they have no reason to remember from whom these cells came. Why would someone researching the polio vaccine care about where he got the cells used in experimentation. This is one of the many questions raised in the book. The true problem is that the cells were stolen, according to the family, from Henrietta Lacks at the Colored clinic of the John Hopkins Hospital. She claims to never have signed any consent forms, but yet the cells were taken, cultured, and made millions of billions of dollars for many people worldwide. Unfortunately, the families were never told about the cells nor were they educated about them, and this caused many problems between sources of authority and the Lacks Family. Thus, the family never received any type of compensation for their mother's large contribution to science. The most disappointing fact is that the family did not have any Health Insurance of any kind, so they were unable to get routine checkups or have certain medical procedures done because of the high prices of medical care. How could the family still not have Health Insurance when their mother was such a large contribution to medicine and science itself?
During the many hours spent within the Honors classroom, students have discussed various ways to interpret this text, both as a humanitarian and a Christian. First it is important to understand one's personal perspective, biases, presuppositions, and morals or values. Then it is possible to perceive the perspective, biases, presuppositions, and morals or values of others. Instead of just exclaiming what students understood about the book, students were forced to think about how these thoughts and understandings came to be. In this process, students can look at the book through many different lenses, including that of a scientist and a theologian. One might say that the Bible, as scripture, clearly tells us to take care of the poor and wounded because that is the example that Jesus Christ sets for us to follow as his Christian disciples in the New Testament; therefore, as a Christian it is our duty to assist the Lacks family with their financial issues in any way possible. However, most humanitarian morals or ethics do come from those set forth in Christianity, or if they don't, they seem to have some relation to those that do. Even if readers have not gone through exact experiences of the Lacks family, most will do their best to relate to the situation or the feelings that the family went through. Most readers will have been to the doctor at some time in their life, or have been sick and can understand what it feels like to not have medical care due to a lack of finances. Or perhaps the reader will have had some sort of surgical medical procedure performed on them personally and now they begin to question the location of their body parts. One of the many questions this book invites the reader to ask is: Are HeLa cells still a part of Henrietta, and, therefore, belong to her family members alive today?
As a student and history major, throughout the discussions in Honors, the word presentism has been repeating over and over in my mind. Presentism, for those who were not sitting in our Honors class last year, is the unintentional (and sometimes intentional) process where people force their present culture and or social ideas on the past and attempt to seek reason through the eyes of a modern person, without taking time to evaluate the context of the historical event. As a student who has also sat in an upper-level history course, I find it extremely frustrating to sit through a discussion filled with ideas of presentism. But, in reading this book, I believe that because I understand this concept and how it can be extremely problematic, it is my responsibility to make others aware of it especially in close-knit discussions such as those that take place in the Honors program. The book also gave me a better understanding of my faith through its narrative stories.
For example, the strong faith of the family, and the various methods of spiritual praise, inspired my faith and caused me to re-evaluate my method of worship. The book does not necessarily cause me to question the way I currently give praise to God, or pray to him. But, it does open my eyes to see that there is something more powerful in this creative method of worship. In order to design my own method of worship, I need to fully understand my faith which forces me to self-evaluate my reasoning for worship.So many questions are raised by this book, but it is not these questions that enhance my faith. It is the questioning process that causes me to self-evaluate, and I believe that this self-evaluation is crucial to understanding how to be prepared "for thoughtful and informed living, for dedicated service to God and humanity, and for the enlightened care of God's creation, all within the context of the Christian Gospel."