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Skloot’s Reference to Current News Story

If you attended Rebecca Skloot’s public talk at the Kohl Center, you may remember that she referenced a recent news story about a teenager’s brain on display in a morgue without the family’s consent.

In New York, a 17-year-old was killed in a car accident which was followed by an autopsy. After the autopsy, the family buried their son without knowing the son’s brain was put on display. Friends of the son saw the brain on display at the morgue during a school field trip. Soon after, the family found out the shocking and disturbing news. Read more about this news story:

Skloot made this reference because this story greatly relates to her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The stories are similar in that Henrietta and Jesse’s bodies both were used without their consent. The families of Henrietta and Jesse found out after the bodies had been used which has caused disturbance for these families.

The themes of consent, medical discovery, and moral permissibility are prevalent in both of these stories. Especially in the Henrietta Lacks case, we are forced to get in touch with our moral intuitions and start asking tough questions. Is it morally permissible to use Henrietta’s cells even without her consent if it can and has saved many lives and has led to many scientific discoveries? What about the families? How should they be treated after discovery of the usage of their loved ones’ body? Should they be somehow compensated? These are some obstacles to consider in the cases of both Henrietta and Jesse.

Jessica Waala
Undergraduate Student