In preparation for the class Being Human and Christian in an Interconnected World, the Honors Program read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The book incorporated the life of Henrietta Lacks' family and how Henrietta's cells contributed to science. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black women who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Before her death, doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital took a sample of cancer tissue from her cervix. These tissues became known as HeLa cells which have been utilized for medical research such as cloning and finding the vaccine for polio. In the story, there is a constant transition between scientific discoveries that included her cells and how her family was affected by her cells. It explained how scientists could acquire information about cells by observing and experimenting with HeLa cells. On the other hand, her family was negatively affected by HeLa cells. Researchers came to their houses to take blood samples without telling the family why they were there. The Lacks family which included Deborah, Zakariyya, Sonny, and Lawrence was constantly left without information causing much hurt and confusion. Furthermore, the book tells the story of Rebecca Skloot's and Deborah's journey to discover more information about Henrietta, HeLa, and Elsie Lacks. Indeed they do find Elsie's and Henrietta's medical records along with a view of Henrietta's cells through a microscope. On another note, the book brought up many great discussion points. There are ethical issues raised in the book such as whether researchers can inject patients with cancer cells without the patients consent. There are also differences in theological ideas. Most of the Lacks family is very religious and believes HeLa cells still contain a piece of Henrietta or her soul while scientists have an opposing view. The scientists in the story simply viewed her cells as being a miracle for scientific research. Another discussion point was the idea of immortality. The idea of immortality can be viewed from many different standpoints including a Theological, Greek, scientific standpoint. From a theological standpoint, some would say Henrietta is immortal because she lived on within her cells. The idea of immortality from a Greek standpoint is that the soul cannot die. And finally, from a scientific standpoint, her cells are only immortal because the telomeres at the end of the DNA strand rebuild themselves so the HeLa cells can continue to replicate.
Being Human and Christian in an Interconnected World includes both our beliefs in God and our knowledge. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also includes two topics that relate but are not the same. As stated earlier, the topics are science and the journey of Rebecca Skloot and Deborah to discover information about Henrietta Lacks and her cells. The book conveys that some people alter their perspectives to look at life from a religious point of view while others view life through a scientific point of view. Deborah and most of her family viewed life from a religious point of view partially because they lacked education. Religion is what they have grown up with and how they understand the world. On the other hand, scientists mentioned in the book such as George Gey and Christoph Lengauer viewed life through a scientific point of view. To them and most other scientists, cells are simply a basic unit of life consisting of a nucleus, cytoplasm, cell wall, and organelles. These conflicting views add to the deep meanings of the book. This book also conveys that humans sometimes do not view the world through other people's eyes. People can be ignorant of problems happening in the world. Henrietta's life was little known because of ignorance. It took forty years for someone to finally tell the story of Henrietta Lacks. It took forty years for someone to finally illustrate the difficulties that Henrietta Lacks and her children went through. Sometimes people can be selfish. In the story, various doctors including Victor McKusick, Chester Southam, and Emanuel Mandel so they could benefit from the cells and get recognition for their research. On another note, this book illustrates how many people have different conflicting ethics. What one person believes is right might be wrong to another person. Ethical beliefs constantly create dilemmas and unanswerable questions? Who owns the tissue after it is taken from a person? Do you need consent to utilized someone's tissue in research? People also have conflicting religious beliefs which in many ways are similar to their ethical beliefs. These conflicting views add to the deep intellectual issues found in the book.
Finally, I thought the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was very thought provoking. While writing this blog, I struggled to put my words onto paper. This book encompasses so many ideas and concepts that it's difficult to comprehend. I was constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have received a good, free education and I'm grateful that I can continue my education. I believe Henrietta would be glad of what her cells have done for science. As the story says, she always wanted to help people. Because of this book and the deep discussions in class, I believe I have grown as a person and as a Christian. I really enjoyed reading chapter 36. The chapter was filled with faith in God and the love he brings. I also found the chapter to be very intriguing. One of my goals in this course is to become a better Christian and to learn more about the bible and my faith. I believe this book drove me to look at how I view the world and where I stand on certain issues. It forced me to think deeply about topics I have barely considered in the past. All in all, I feel I am always growing and learning but I feel this book brought up new interesting topics and solid facts to ponder and discuss. I enjoyed reading it and discussing it as a class.