The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 2, Chapter 14 : Helen Lane (1953–1954) | Summary

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Summary

George Gey has shared Henrietta's name with several people, but he wants to keep it out of the press. However, someone at the Minneapolis Star finds out; they misprint it as "Henrietta Lakes." Gey argues with a reporter who wants to interview the Lacks family; had the reporter proceeded with the article, the Lackses would have found out about the HeLa cells and the research conducted with them.

Then in 1954 Collier's magazine wants to write a human-interest article about the HeLa cells. Gey says the magazine can do so only if it uses a fictitious name for the patient. He provides the name Helen Lane. When the article is published, it includes this false name and falsely says doctors took the HeLa cells after "Helen Lane" died. The pseudonym ensures journalists won't find out about Henrietta Lacks, and her family won't either.

Analysis

George Gey wants to keep the patient's name anonymous, but it is unclear who he is trying to protect. A fake name means the Lacks family won't be hounded by the press or by those seeking genetic material. Ethically speaking, patient anonymity is beginning to become general practice for patients' protection. However, keeping the patient anonymous also means Gey never has to tell the family their mother is the source of the HeLa cells. The line between protecting the Lackses and protecting himself is a fuzzy one.

In addition, Gey never corrects the Collier's magazine error about when the "Helen Lane" cells were sampled. It wouldn't look good for him if he acknowledged taking the cells while his patient was alive and didn't tell her. Gey's trail is covered; the Lacks family still knows nothing and therefore can't object.

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