Study Guide to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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They will learn how a major piece of science history has impacted their lives on an individual level. Students should begin this lesson with a basic knowledge about what cells are and how they function. This student sheet also asks students to create a poster explaining DNA to someone unfamiliar with it. In this part of the lesson, students will learn more about the case of Henrietta Lacks by reading the book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Summary & Study Guide

Once students have read this article, you should engage them in a discussion using the questions on the HeLa teacher sheet students can record their responses on the HeLa student sheet. Once you have had this discussion with students, use the Debate Form from the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research to lead students in a debate about patient rights regarding using human tissue for research.

Now that students have a basic understanding of HeLa cells and the story behind them, have them read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. They should use the HeLa Reading Log student sheet to guide them as they read. The reading log guides students through the book, which is divided into three parts.


  • Reforms for political and economic independence.
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  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Questions.
  • Book Summary.

The reading log follows this layout. You can find suggested responses to the questions on the HeLa Reading Log teacher sheet.

Genetic testing is a controversial subject. The Science NetLinks lesson Ethics and Reproductive Issues: The Dilemma of Choice looks at three situations in which prenatal testing may be used to prevent or facilitate pregnancy.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Ask students to explore this issue by reading Confronting a Fetal Abnormality: Reflections by Doha Raik Hamza and writing an essay about the right to know versus the right not to know. They can also conduct their own research to learn more about the cells. See the Tool.


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She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells taken without her knowledge became one of the most important tools in medicine. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family past and present is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother?

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of 15? The Book Report Network.