S4L Book Club – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Deborah, Zakariyya, and Rebecca meet Christoph at his Johns Hopkins lab to examine HeLa cells and discuss their commerce.

  1. Christoph told Deborah and Zakariyya, about their mother’s cells:  “Once there is a cure for cancer, it’s definitely largely because of your mother’s cells.”  He then used an analogy about ownership rights of finding oil on property.  Discuss your thoughts about the Henrietta Cells and Oil Rights Ownership conundrum.

Categories: Personal

5 replies »

  1. Uh-oh. I don’t remember that analogy. Can someone refresh my memory?

    I do remember liking that meeting with Christoph. Finally, someone was answering the Lacks’s questions in a way that was meaningful to them. It was heartwarming. And a huge breakthrough, especially for Zakariyya. I think that interaction, along with Rebecca’s efforts, is what allowed him to shed some of his hostility about the situation.

    I remember feeling that what Christoph said made sense. I just don’t remember exactly what he said!

  2. The reference is actually to the fact that if oil is found on someone’s property, the oil doesn’t automatically belong to them, but they get a portion of the profits. One, I’m not sure that is true. I know people living on top of oil and natural gas, who get nothing and don’t even have a say so about where drilling is done. Second, it is the oil that is valuable. I’ve already expressed my opinion on the inherent value of Henrietta’s cells and whether the family have any actual “ownership” of the same. I think that Christoph Lengauer is a thoughtful and caring man, who expressed an opinion of what would have been good for the familiy, but even he indicated that “No one knows how to deal with this when it comes to cells”

  3. Yes, there are definitely places where the oil and gas and minerals on a land-owner’s property are excluded from that ownership. I recall our deed having something to that effect.

    The book made me more aware of some of the issues involved in cell research, but I didn’t draw any grand conclusions about what rights people should have to control their cells after they are removed or who should be allowed to profit from them. Did you?

    I think I’m leery of giving all the power to one faction, though, because corruption is too easy when there’s no opposition or balance. I was disappointed to hear at the end how the business of cells totally in the hands of the research side is in some cases hindering research. Where’s the balance to keep research moving and the business end of it fair and competitive? Sigh. Why can’t people be generous and just play nice?

  4. I thought that Skloot did an amazing job of presenting the facts but not drawing conclusions. She acknowledges that this is a very complex subject. I really didn’t feel that the book tried to present a conclusion about it all.

    I agree that all power or control in one area is dangerous. I think that balance and varying opinions are essential in all aspects of life.

  5. Rebecca Skloot has written a fascinating book weaving together a very human story of the family and complex issues of medical ethics. Different readers may enjoy one aspect more than another. But all aspects are well done and I think fairly covered. I think she struck a good balance in presenting various positions on complicated issues.