Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction
A Conspiracy Of Cells: One
Woman's Immortal Legacy And The Medical Scandal It Caused
by Michael Gold (nonfiction selection)
DIVERSIONS BOOK CLUB
Continue the discussion online on our blog
! (NCI-Frederick access only)
1. Which book(s) did you read, and did you like or
Discussion Questions for
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
1. Due to her patience with the Lacks family, Skloot
was able to write this book. What do you think about her ability to persist in
2. When Mary Kubicek, Dr. Gey's assistant, was at
Henrietta's autopsy, she noticed Henrietta's painted toes and was reminded that
the cells she'd been working with actually came from a live person. Do most
people working in labs have this disconnect between their human samples and
3. When HeLa cells started to be sold, do you think
that Dr. Gey should have stepped in to assure that Henrietta Lacks' family was
compensated in some way? Do you think they should be compensated at
4. Why do you think the people injected during Dr.
Chester Southam's experiments or their family members did not question what
they were being injected with or why they developed cancer? Would the same be
5. Do you think the doctors who allowed patients to
be involved in potentially harmful experiments without their knowledge were
complying with their Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm"?
6. John Moore said "It was very
dehumanizing to be thought of as Mo, to be referred to as Mo in the medical
" (p.201). Why didn't the scientists consider this when creating
their cell lines?
7. Compared with the Golde/Moore case, was what Dr.
Gey did with Henrietta Lacks' cells different because he made no money from
8. Michael Gold told Rebecca Skloot: "The family
wasn't really my focus
I just thought they might make some interesting
color for the scientific story" (p.211). Your thoughts?
Discussion Questions for
A Conspiracy Of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy And The
Medical Scandal It Caused
1. The book starts with a quote from Francis Bacon:
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; But if he will
be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."
2. When Dr. Nelson-Rees was given the Soviet cells,
he was instructed not to do anything with them. Why do you think he sent them
to Detroit anyway? Was he wrong to do so?
3. Why was it so difficult for Dr. Nelson-Rees to
publish his findings about the Russian cells, in addition to his initial
rejection from Science about the HeLa contamination? Does his experience raise
concerns for you about the scientific publication process?
4. Do you think that Dr. Nelson-Rees was unscientific
or unethical in his efforts to point out cell contamination in specific labs?
Was it wrong for him to do that publicly?
5. Do you think that tissue culturists would have
taken Dr. Gartler's news about cell contamination differently if he were a
tissue culturist also, rather than a geneticist?
6. How did you feel when you learned that many cell
lines were likely contaminated with HeLa cells, making years of research and
money a waste? Do you consider that research a waste?
7. According to the author, Jim Duff once said, "You
know, they don't award Nobel Prizes for finding out that things are wrong" (p.
143). Should finding out that things are wrong be valued just as much as making
8. This book was published in 1986. Has the attitude
of scientists today changed toward cell line contamination compared with those
discussed in the book?