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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

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After reading chapters 18–19 in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, explain how the public responded to the idea of cell hybrids. In what specific ways did the media influence the public's perception of cell hybrids?

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As presented in chapters 18 and 19 of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, public response to the idea of cell hybrids included criticism of scientists as irresponsible and arrogant along with fear of the hybrid monsters they were allegedly creating. Many sensational newspaper articles negatively characterized the crossing of HeLa cells with those taken from animals. The creatures that would result were referred to as “monsters.” The experimental crossing most often referred to was between the HeLa cells and mouse cells. Papers such as the Times of London and the Washington Post disparaged “hybrids” and invoked fear of “mouse-men.” Rebecca Skloot states that reading such articles instigated public panic.

The uproar was further fueled, rather than quelled, by the responses provided by the scientists involved, who sometimes implied that such hybrids were not only close to realization but even positive. The predominantly negative public response was conveyed in one survey that Skloot mentions. People applied terms such as dangerous and accused the scientists of “trying to be gods.”

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