Western Washington UniversityCommunications and Marketing
DATE: October 9, 2012 1:06:15 PM PDT
Panel to Discuss Book ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ at WWU Oct. 25

Contact: Dawn Dietrich, associate professor of English and director of Western Reads, (360) 650-3225, Western.Reads@wuu.edu

BELLINGHAM – Panelists with expertise in science, journalism and bio-ethics will discuss the scientific and ethical issues raised by the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” on Thursday, Oct. 25 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in room 204 of the Academic Instructional West building at Western Washington University, and then again from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Village Books in Fairhaven.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, has been selected as the Western Reads book for 2012-13. Panelists for the free public panel discussions include:

  • David Leaf, professor of Biology at Western.
  • Kelly Edwards, an associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington.
  • Ross Fewing, Northwest Network Ethicist, co-chair of the Ethics Committee at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
  • Sheila Webb, associate professor of Journalism at Western.
  • Moderator: Dawn Dietrich, associate professor of English at Western.

     The award winning creative non-fiction book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” details the life of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent by Johns Hopkins Hospital, in 1951, and which became the first cultured cells to survive in a lab. 

Though Lacks died eight months after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 31, her cells continue to live in medical labs around the world.  Today, the HeLa cells as they are known have been generated by the billions to support medical research within the biotech industry. The cells have led to a cure for polio and have supported cancer research and studies in virology, while also opening up the fields of in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. The HeLa cells are considered to be one of the greatest “discoveries” of the 20th century. 

Yet, Henrietta Lacks’ children did not find out about their mother’s “contribution to science” until 1973, at which time the family was struggling financially, had significant health problems, and was unable to afford medical insurance in the United States. To this day, the Lacks family has never received compensation for their mother’s cells from Johns Hopkins Hospital or from the billion-dollar biotech industry, which has bought and sold 50 metric tons of Henrietta Lacks’ cells.

All new freshman and transfer students at Western received complimentary copies of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” at orientation and will be invited to participate in a variety of Western Reads activities during the academic year, including discussions, faculty presentations and guest lectures. Rebecca Skloot is scheduled to visit and talk at Western on April 10, 2013.  

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is the ninth annual book selected in the Western Reads program. Western Reads is sponsored by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services and by New Student Services/Family Outreach.

The Oct. 25 panel discussion will be live-streamed at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/wwu-live-events1 For more information about the Western Reads program, visit http://www.wwu.edu/westernreads/ 

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