According to Rebecca Skloot's book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, how does religious faith help frame the Lackses’ response to, and interpretation of, the scientific information they...

According to Rebecca Skloot's book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, how does religious faith help frame the Lackses’ response to, and interpretation of, the scientific information they receive about HeLa? 

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Deborah Lacks, daughter of Henrietta Lacks, is reported by Rebecca Skloot as being a "deeply religious" Southern black Christian. Deborah and her family believe in faith healing and "sometimes voo doo" (p. 12). Deborah's religion has helped her understand the immortality of her mother's cells because she is able to attribute their immortality to the fact that "Henrietta's spirit lived on in her cells" (p. 12). Due to this belief, Deborah also feels that Henrietta can control anything going on with relation to her cells. For example, Deborah believes Henrietta helped Skloot write her book by drawing her attention to the cell line and by injuring, in "a mysterious accident," a book editor who wanted Skloot to leave the Lacks family out of the book (p. 12). In other words, due to her faith, Deborah believes it is through her mother's spirit that the Lacks family learned anything at all about her mother's cells and how they still live on.

Deborah also uses her faith to help understand how her mother's cells have been used. In an interview, Deborah once stated that she mentions her mother was HeLa anytime she sees a doctor for an appointment. The doctors "get all excited, tell me stuff like how her cells helped make my blood pressure medicines and antidepression pills," plus how her cells were useful in making the nuclear bomb and polio vaccine. Though Deborah doesn't fully understand "how [her mother] did all that," her faith allows her to be "glad she did" (p. 13). Her faith allows her to see that her mother has helped billions of people and to believe her mother would like knowing how many people she has helped.

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