Allusion to Frankenstein Discussion


Choose one question for doing the discussion after that reply1 people 

This is the book

Here is the space for discussing the third part of HeLa. As always, feel free to raise your own points of interest for discussion.

Ch. 23:

The title of this chapter (It’s Alive) contains an allusion to the classic horror movie Frankenstein. What does this allusion suggest about the tension between scientific discovery, and public perception and fear of such discoveries?

Why did the Lacks family think that doctors wanted their blood? Did researchers explain why they wanted the samples? Did the family give informed consent for using the samples?

Ch. 24:

Describe Michael Rogers’ motivation in finding the Lacks family, and his interactions with them. What did they find upsetting about his article, and why?

Explain how the sale of HeLa evolved into a business. In what ways beyond the financial do scientists, corporations, and individuals profit as a result of HeLa? 

Why did Deborah begin researching her mother’s cells? What effects did her research have on her?

Ch. 25:

Describe John Moore’s story. Do you agree with the Supreme Court of CA’s decision? Summarize the legal reasoning behind the decision.

Ch. 26:

What changes had taken place in the lives of Henrietta’s children by 1980? 

Why did Zakariyya decide to participate in research studies at Johns Hopkins? What is ironic about his participation?

Why did Deborah choose not to request a copy of her mother’s medical records? How did she react after reading about her mother’s death?

Explain why Gold’s journalism could be considered irresponsible and/or unethical. What do Gold’s comments about his decision to publish private information without consulting the Lacks family reveal about his attitude toward them?


Are scientists able to definitively explain why HeLa cells grow so powerfully? Explain the theories that Henrietta’s family have about why her cells are so powerful.

Explain Van Valen’s theory that HeLa cells are “no longer human.” Was his theory accepted by the scientific community? What does Stevenson think that scientists developed this argument?

Ch. 28:

Carefully reread the speech Deborah gave at Morehouse College, paying particular attention to her repetition of the word “understanding.” Why do you think understanding HeLa was so important to her? What obstacles does she mention as impeding her understanding? 

Summarize the events in Deborah’s life leading up to her initial contact with Rebecca Skloot. How do these events help explain Deborah’s initial reluctance to talk with Skloot?

Ch. 29:

Why do you think Deborah eventually decided to talk with Skloot? What did she ask Skloot to promise she would do? What did Deborah hope would happen as a result of Skloot’s research? What was Deborah reluctant to discuss, and why?

Ch. 30:

Zakariyya uses the term “disrespect” to describe Gey’s treatment of Henrietta and the family. What are his reasons for feeling this way? Do you believe Gey was disrespectful?

What does Zakariyya blame on Henrietta’s cancer cells? Does Deborah agree with him?

Ch. 31:

What does Deborah say about people who frame her mother’s story as a story about racism?

How did Skloot finance the research for her book? What did she promise to do for the Lacks family if and when the book was published?

Explain why it would be easy to believe that the Marvel super villain, Hela, Goddess of Death, was based on Henrietta Lacks. 

Ch. 32:

Compare and contrast Skloot’s, Deborah’s, and Zakariyya’s interactions with the Jesus statue at Johns Hopkins. What do these interactions reveal about their attitudes toward religious faith?

How does Christoph Lengauer interact with the Lacks family? Why do you think his interaction is so different from any of their previous interactions at Johns Hopkins? What does he believe about the Lackses’ right to be financially compensated for the sale of their mother’s cells? 

Your initial post is due Oct. 21 at 11:59 pm. You must respond to at least one peer by Oct. 24 at 11:59 pm. Please see the syllabus for more information. 

Here is the space for the last part of HeLa. You may also reflect on any aspect of the book now that you have finished reading it.

Ch. 33:

The title of this chapter is “The Hospital for the Negro Insane.” What was your reaction to this title? Why do you think Skloot chose it?

Why was Skloot surprised by the appearance of Crownsville? What do you think she expected to find?

Describe conditions at the hospital during the time period that Elsie was a patient there. 

Compare and contrast the medical research likely performed on Elsie with Gey’s research and Southam’s research. Does some medical research seem “more wrong?” Why do you think you feel that way?

Ch. 34:

How does Deborah respond when Skloot suggests photocopying some of Henrietta’s records? Why do you think she responds this way? 

How can you tell that Elsie’s photograph and autopsy are deeply troubling to Deborah?

What causes the confrontation between Deborah and Skloot, and how is it resolved?

Ch. 35:

Gary tells Deborah that her quest to find out about Elsie and Henrietta has been a way of “honoring her mother.” Explain what he means by this.

Ch. 36:

Discuss the impact that witnessing the interaction between Gary and Deborah – and, later, talking with Gary- had on Skloot. What new perspective did she gain after these experiences?

Ch. 37:

What did Pullum ask Skloot to “preach” about at JaBrea’s baptism? 

According to Deborah and Pullum, how is Henrietta’s story going to be different for her descendants in future generations?

Ch. 38:

At the time of this book’s publication, how had the lives of Henrietta’s great- and great-great-grandchildren been affected by Skloot’s research, and by the knowledge and understanding of Henrietta’s contribution to science?


What legal options do the Lackses have? What is their position on suing over the use of HeLa?

If Henrietta Lacks could know how important her cells have been to science, do you think she would approve of the fact that they were taken from her without her knowledge and consent? Support your answer with evidence from the text.