The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

general article writing


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Guided Reading Questions

Chapter One: The Exam

1. How long did Henrietta wait between first telling her girlfriends that “something didn’t feel right” and

going to the doctor?

2. Why does Sadie think Henrietta hesitated before seeing a doctor?

3. What did Henrietta’s first doctor assume the source of the lump on Henrietta’s cervix was? What

stereotype or bias might this assumption be based upon?

4. Why did David Lacks take Henrietta to the public wards at Johns Hopkins instead of a closer hospital?

Chapter Two: Clover

1. Why did Henrietta end up being raised by her grandfather, Tommy Lacks?

2. What are the connotations of the term “home-house”? What does this term suggest about the values of

the Lacks family?

3. How was Day related to Henrietta?

4. Skloot uses vivid imagery and details to describe Henrietta’s childhood in Clover. Locate a passage

that you found particularly effective or memorable, and explain why you selected it.

Chapter Three: Diagnosis and Treatment

1. How did doctors justify using patients in public hospital wards as medical research subjects without

obtaining their consent or offering them financial compensation? Do you agree or disagree with their

reasoning? Explain your answer.

2. Analyze the consent statement that Henrietta signed on page 31. Based on this statement, do you

believe TeLinde and Guy had the right to obtain a sample from her cervix to use in their research?

3. Do you think Henrietta would have given explicit consent to have a tissue sample used in medical

research if she had been asked? Do you think she would have understood what was being asked of her?

Explain your answers.

4. Were cells taken only from black patients? Were black patients generally treated differently from white

patients in the early 1950s? Explain your answers.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Guided Reading Questions

Chapter Four: The Birth of HeLa

1. Summarize the main obstacles Gey and his assistants faced in their effort to grow cells.

2. Where did the name “HeLa” come from?

3. Gey chose to give away samples of HeLa to his colleagues almost immediately. Do you think this was

a good decision? Explain your answer.

4. Once HeLa started growing, was Henrietta informed that her cells were being used in Gey’s research?

5. What is the implication of the author’s decision to use the term “birth” to describe the initial growth of

HeLa cells?

Chapter Five: “Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside”

1. After her diagnosis and treatment, how did Henrietta behave? What can you infer about her personality

based on this behavior?

2. What was Elsie’s early life like?

3. Why did Henrietta and David (Day) Lacks decide to place Elsie in the Hospital for the Negro Insane?

4. Why do you think Henrietta initially chose not to tell people about her cancer diagnosis? What does this

decision suggest about Henrietta’s personality?

5. What important information did Henrietta’s doctor fail to give her before starting her cancer treatment?

How did she react when this information was eventually shared with her?

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