The story of Henrietta Lacks, the great grand-daughter of slaves was hugely influential in my writing. It’s one of America’s most obscene secrets that was only brought to light recently by the publication of a book entitled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It was a regular practice of western scientists and medical doctors to experiment unbeknowingly on people, especially black men and women to see what would happen under certain circumstances such as untreated disease allowed to run its course or the effects of radiation on an individual. The more obvious reasons were to or try to find cures for various diseases or to develop various medical techniques first tried out on unsuspecting or forced black human subjects. Medical experiments of this sort were typical during the centuries of black enslavement by white people. Anyway, Ms. Lacks who was suffering from cervical cancer had some of her cells stolen during treatment by her gynecologist in 1951. Her cells, today known as HeLa cells, have been proliferated by scientists all over the world ever since and have been key in many scientific breakthroughs including the vaccine for polio, the field of genetics including gene mapping and DNA fingerprinting, as well as the crusade against cancer and other diseases. The work is ongoing. According to Skloot, there could be as many as 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells alive today in various laboratories.
God’s Blood considers the absurdity of this bigtot-based medical science while also looking at the possibilities that may arise in the future from the use of HeLa cells in medicine. This embedded series of videos tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and her stolen cervical cells and is well worth your time to watch.