The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Questions and Answers
by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
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In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, how is Rebecca Skloot’s interest in Henrietta Lacks similar to and different from George Gey’s interest in her?

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The way in which George Gey and Rebecca Skloot take interest in Henrietta Lacks is very different, although there are some evident similarities within their approach. In one sense, the differences are most apparent, as Gey is somebody who cares nothing for the individual person of Henrietta Lacks and is only interested in her cancer cells and their regenerative properties. Skloot, on the other hand, is intimately interested in the person herself and her life story. In the Prologue of this text Skloot describes how she first heard about Henrietta Lacks as a medical student and was instantly intrigued:

"HeLa cells were one of the most important things that happened to medicine in the last hundred years," Defler said.

Then, matter-of-factly, almost as an afterthought, he said, "She was a black woman." He erased her name in one fast swipe and blew the chalk from his hands. Class was over.

Skloot is instantly intrigued by this throwaway comment about Henrietta Lacks and the lack of knowledge about her life, and it is this curiosity that birthed the text.

However, in spite of this massive difference between Gey and Skloot regarding Henrietta Lacks, both pursue their respective interest in her for altruistic motives. Gey studies her cells in the hope of making medical advances and finding cures for diseases and does not profit himself from HeLa. In the same way Skloot researches into the life of Henrietta Lacks and her family to bring her contribution to medical science more into the public forum, and she herself uses some of the profits of her work to create a fund for the education of Henrietta's descendants.

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