• Did this book break new ground for you? Had you ever thought about what happens to your tissues
after a hospital procedure?
• How well does Rebecca Skloot bring Henrietta Lacks to life? What did you think of the ctional
biography device at the beginning of the book?
• What is Rebecca’s attitude to the Lacks family – sympathetic or judgemental?
• How well did Rebecca explain the legal and ethical issues about consent, and/or payment, for the use
of our tissues? Having read the book, do you feel that payment or consent are important, or is ownership
of our tissues irrelevant once they leave our bodies?
• To what extent do you think racial discrimination was a factor in what happened to the Lacks family?
Do you feel some compensation should be given to Henrietta Lacks’s descendants – either as their due
or as an act of grace?
Sitting in Lawrence’s living room, Sonny and Bobbette yelled back and orth or nearly an hour about
Hopkins snatching black people. Eventually, Sonny leaned back in his chair and said, “John Hopkin didn’t
give us no information about anything. That was the bad part. Not the sad part, but the bad part, cause I
don’t know i they didn’t give us inormation because they was making money out o it, or i they was just
wanting to keep us in the dark about it. I think they made money out of it, cause they were selling her cells all
over the world and shipping them or dollars.”
“Hopkins say they gave them cells away,” Lawrence yelled, “but they made millions! It’s not fair! She’s the
most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother so important to science,
why can’t we get health insurance?”
Day had prostate cancer and asbestos-lled lungs. Sonny had a bad heart, and Deborah had arthritis,
osteoporosis, nerve deafness, anxiety, and depression. With all that plus the whole family’s high blood
pressure and diabetes, the Lackses fgured they pretty much supported the pharmaceutical industry, plus
several doctors. But their insurance came and went. Some were covered through Medicare, others on and
o by spouses, but they all went stretches with no coverage or money or treatment.
As the Lacks men talked about Hopkins and insurance, Bobbette snorted in disgust and walked to her
recliner in the living room. “My pressure’s goin up and I’m not gonna die over this, you know?” The whole
thing just wasn’t worth getting riled up over, she said. But she couldn’t help hersel. “Everybody knew
black people were disappearing cause Hopkins was experimenting on them!” she yelled. “I believe a lot of
it was true.”
“Probably so,” Sonny said. “A lot might a been myth too. You never know. But one thing we do know, them
cells about my mother ain’t no myth.”
Day thumped his cane again.
“You know what is a myth?” Bobbette snapped from the recliner. “Everybody always saying Henrietta Lacks
donated those cells. She didn’t donate nothing. They took them and didn’t ask.” She inhaled a deep breath
to calm herself. “What really would upset Henrietta is the fact that Dr. Gey never told the family anything-we
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in health by supporting the brightest minds.
The Wellcome Trust is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 210183. Its sole trustee is The Wellcome Trust Limited, a company registered in England
and Wales, no. 2711000 (whose registered ofce is at 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK).
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – her debut book – took more than a decade to research and write, and
instantly became a New York Times bestseller. It is now being made into an HBO movie, produced by Oprah
Winfrey and Alan Ball. Visitre b e c c a s k lo o t .c o m or special audio and video eatures, excerpts and more.
Rebecca set up a und, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, supplying unding or the education o Henrietta