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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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There are many possibilities for writing a paper based on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Click on the subject tabs for suggested topics.

  • family dynamics
  • racism
  • civil rights movement
  • death
  • immortality
  • cultural differences between 1950’s and now
  • segregation
  • Johns Hopkins (the person or the hospital)
  • religion and faith
  • researching your family history
  • Jim Crow era
  • Tuskegee Study
  • faith healing
  • eugenics
  • child abuse
  • Nuremburg Code
  • domestic violence
  • ownership of one’s cells
  • prison ministry
  • mental institutions
  • Henrietta Lacks Foundation
  • cell culture
  • medical research
  • death
  • development of the polio vaccine
  • gene sequencing
  • biobank
  • inbreeding
  • cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • HeLa cells
  • cloning
  • syphilis
  • sexually transmitted disease
  • eugenics
  • gene mapping
  • human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • culture media
  • cross-species
  • deafness
  • stem cell research
  • donor compensation
  • scientific progress
  • accountability
  • informed consent
  • health insurance availability
  • human cell ownership
  • Moore v. Regents of California (1990)
  • privacy
  • bioethics
  • human vs. animal research
  • cloning
  • HPV vaccinations
  • vaccination safety
  • welfare of the vulnerable
  • privacy
  • Symbolism (The picture of HeLa cells Henrietta’s grave site storm Deborah's messages to Skoot the home-house)
  • character development
  • setting
  • writing structure
  • compare & contrast with another book (such as Fried Green Tomatoes or The Hours)


Henrietta Lacks – A beautiful, gregarious black woman who died of cervical cancer at the age of 31

David “Day” Lacks – Her close relation and husband, first a field hand in his grandfather’s tobacco fields and later a steel worker in Baltimore

Tommy Lacks – Tobacco farmer, the grandfather who raised both Henrietta and Day

Ethel – A long-time rival of Henrietta, who, with her husband, Galen, moved in with Day after Henrietta’s death to help raise their three younger children.

Lawrence Lacks – Henrietta & Day’s eldest son, who took his siblings in when he realized they were being abused by Ethel

Elsie Lacks – Henrietta & Day’s older daughter, an epileptic who was incapable of speech. She died in a mental institution at age 15.

Sonny Lacks – Henrietta & Day’s second son, who was four when Henrietta passed away. The family spokesperson.

Deborah “Dale” Lacks – Henrietta & Day’s daughter, who was two when Henrietta passed away. Her desire to “know” her mother and sister forms much of the second half of the book.

Joe “Zakariyya” Lacks – The baby of the family, he was 4½ months old when Henrietta was diagnosed with cancer. He has anger issues, and spent some time in prison where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Zakariyya.

Bobette Lacks – Lawrence's wife, who realized his siblings were being abused and insisted that Lawrence take them in.

Dr. George Gey – Researcher whose work led to the development of the HeLa cell line.

Margaret Gey – George’s wife and assistant.

Mary Kubicek – George’s lab assistant, who actually grew the first HeLa cells.

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