In the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Do you think the family is owed money for the HeLa cells? Why or why not?
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Yes, her family does deserve compensation. The dehumanization of Henrietta is particularly difficult for her family to understand and cope with. To them, the HeLa cells are not a separate entity, or merely a culture of cells on a petri dish. They are the living and sole remaining pieces of their family member on Earth. To them, Henrietta is HeLa, and HeLa is Henrietta. So for example, when Deborah and other Lackses read newspapers articles about HeLa cells being crossed with tobacco plants, sent into space, or injected with AIDS and Ebola, they don’t visualize these acts being done to microscopic cells. Rather, they see their mother, wife, and friend being subjected to inhuman physical trials. And when they read about the amazing and life-saving discoveries made because of HeLa, they attribute it to their mother’s generosity and propensity for taking care of others. As Gary, Henrietta’s nephew, says near the end of the book, “those cells are Henrietta,” no matter what science or medicine may claim.