The 57 Best Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Quotes

1. “When it came to growing viruses—as with many other things—the fact that HeLa was malignant just made it more useful.”

2. “If the whole profession is doing it, how can you call it ‘unprofessional conduct’?”

3. “He dreamed of never-ending life for those he deemed worthy, and death or forced sterilization for everyone else. He’d later praise Hitler for the “energetic measures” he took in that direction”

4. “Since the Common Rule says that research subjects must be allowed to withdraw from research at any time, these experts have told me that, in theory, the Lacks family might be able to withdraw HeLa cells from all research worldwide. And in fact, there are precedents for such a case, including one in which a woman successfully had her father’s DNA removed from a database in Iceland. Every researcher I’ve mentioned that idea to shudders at the thought of it.”

5. “These cells have transformed modern medicine. … They shaped the policies of countries and of presidents. They even became involved in the Cold War. Because scientists were convinced that in her cells lay the secret of how to conquer death”

6. “Reader’s Digest ran articles by Corell advising women that a husband should not be induced by an oversexed wife to perform a sexual act.”

7. “For me, it’s writing a book and telling people about this story.”

8. “Then he’d stand the bird upright, saying, “Sorry, old fella,” and put it back in its cage.”

9. “Nearly seven years after Moore originally filed suit, the Supreme Court of California ruled against him in what became the definitive statement on this issue: When tissues are removed from your body, with or without your consent, any claim you might have had to owning them vanishes. When you leave tissues in a doctor’s office or a lab, you abandon them as waste, and anyone can take your garbage and sell it. Since Moore had abandoned his cells, they were no longer a product of his body, the ruling said. They had been “transformed” into an invention and were now the product of Golde’s “human ingenuity” and “inventive effort.”

10. “The research subjects didn’t ask questions. They were poor and uneducated, and the researchers offered incentives: free physical exams, hot meals, and rides into town on clinic days, plus fifty-dollar burial stipends for their families when the men died”

11. “restricting HeLa cell use would be disastrous. “The impact that would have on science is inconceivable,” he said.”

12. “I don’t want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you…But maybe I’ll come back as some HeLa cells like my mother, that way we can do good together out there in the world.”

13. “We all black and white and everything else—this isn’t a race thing. There’s two sides to the story, and that’s what we want to bring out. Nothing about my mother is truth if it’s about wantin to fry the researchers. It’s not about punish the doctors or slander the hospital. I don’t want that.”

14. “It was a story of white selling black, of black cultures “contaminating” white ones with a single cell in an era when a person with “one drop” of black blood had only recently gained the legal right to marry a white person. It was also the story of cells from an uncredited black woman becoming one of the most important tools in medicine.”

15. “She’s the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?.”

16. “The Times of London called the HeLa-mouse cells the “strangest hybrid form of life ever seen in the lab—or out of it.” A Washington Post editorial said, “We cannot afford any artificially induced mouse-men.” It called the research “horrendous” and said the researchers should leave humans alone and “go back to their yeasts and fungi.” One article ran with an image of a half-human, half-mouse creature with a long, scaly tail; another ran with a cartoon of a hippopotamus-woman reading the newspaper at a bus stop.”

17. “Because of patent licensing fees, it costs $25,000 for an academic institution to license the gene for researching a common blood disorder, hereditary haemochromatosis, and up to $250,000 to license the same gene for commercial testing. At that rate, it would cost anywhere from $46.4 million (for academic institutions) to $464 million (for commercial labs) to test one person for all known genetic diseases.”

18. “Like many doctors of his era, TeLinde often used patients from the public wards for research, usually without their knowledge. Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment.”

19. “man brought nothing into this world and he’ll carry nothing out. Sometime we care about stuff too much. We worry when there’s nothing to worry about.” In a moment of clarity, Deborah nodded, saying, “And we bring our own body down by doing it.”

20. “Only cells that had been transformed by a virus or a genetic mutation had the potential to become immortal.”

21. “At some point, Zakariyya noticed an ad seeking volunteers for medical studies at Hopkins, and he realized he could become a research subject in exchange for a little money, a few meals, sometimes even a bed to sleep on. When he needed to buy eyeglasses, he let researchers infect him with malaria to study a new drug”

22. “She demanded to know if anyone ever tried to teach her sister sign language. No one had.”

23. “Scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive in culture for decades, but they all eventually died. Henrietta’s were different: they reproduced an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.”

24. “And when the Lord chooses an angel to do his work, you never know what they going to come back looking like.”

25. “But I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors? Don’t make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don’t get a dime.”

26. ″[…] I’m glad He sent you,” she said, pointing to the sky. “This story just got to be told! Praise the Lord, people got to know about Henrietta!”

27. “Hennie made life come alive—bein with her was like being with fun…Hennie just love peoples. She was a person that could make the good things come out of you.”

28. “Everybody always saying Henrietta Lacks donated those cells. She didn’t donate nothing. They took them and didn’t ask…What really would upset Henrietta is the fact that Dr. Gey never told the family anything—we didn’t know nothing about those cells and he didn’t care.”

29. “Sometimes I wonder, if somebody taught her sign language, maybe she’d still be alive.”

30. “Because of this history, black residents near Hopkins have long believed the hospital was built in a poor black neighborhood for the benefit of scientists—to give them easy access to potential research subjects. In fact, it was built for the benefit of Baltimore’s poor.”

31. “Black scientists and technicians, many of them women, used cells from a black woman to help save the lives of millions of Americans, most of them white. And they did so on the same campus—and at the very same time—that state officials were conducting the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies.”

32. “Baltimore, looking at a genetics textbook. Her”

33. “Like the Bible said,’ Gary whispered, ‘man brought nothing into this world and he’ll carry nothing out. Sometimes we care about stuff too much. We worry when there’s nothing to worry about.”

34. “If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”

35. “He specified that the only patients to be charged were those who could easily afford it, and that any money they brought in should then be spent treating those without money.”

36. “But I tell you one thing, I don’t want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that’s just sad.”

37. “Many doctors tested drugs on slaves and operated on them to develop new surgical techniques, often without using anesthesia. Fear”

38. “Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment. And as Howard Jones once wrote, “Hopkins, with its large indigent black population, had no dearth of clinical material.”

39. “I was a kid who’d failed freshman year at the regular public high school because she never showed up.”

40. “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph. —ELIE WIESEL from The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code.”

41. “Like I’m always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.”

42. “In that moment, reading those passages, I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. If you believe the Bible is the literal truth, the immortality of Henrietta’s cells makes perfect sense.”

43. “I keep with me all I know about you deep in my soul, because I am part of you, and you are me.”

44. “But today when people talk about the history of Hopkins’s relationship with the black community, the story many of them hold up as the worst offense is that of Henrietta Lacks—a black woman whose body, they say, was exploited by white scientists.”

45. “But normal human cells—either in culture or in the human body—can’t grow indefinitely like cancer cells. They divide only a finite number of times, then stop growing and begin to die. The number of times they can divide is a specific number called the Hayflick Limit, after Leonard Hayflick, who’d published a paper in 1961 showing that normal cells reach their limit when they’ve doubled about fifty times.”

46. “Some things you got to release. Gary said. The more you hold them in, the worse you get. When you release them, they got to go somewhere else. The Bible says He can carry all that burden.”

47. “When he asked if she was okay, her eyes welled with tears and she said, “Like I’m always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.”

48. “It seems to me the simplest explanation,” he told the audience, “is that they are all HeLa cell contaminants.” Scientists knew they had to keep their cultures free from bacterial and viral contamination, and they knew it was possible for cells to contaminate one another if they got mixed up in culture. But when it came to HeLa, they had no idea what they were up against. It turned out Henrietta’s cells could float through the air on dust particles. They could travel from one culture to the next on unwashed hands or used pipettes; they could ride from lab to lab on researchers’ coats and shoes, or through ventilation systems. And they were strong: if just one HeLa cell landed in a culture dish, it took over, consuming all the media and filling all the space.”

49. “With the ability to identify genes from a blood sample or even a single cell, the risk of a blood draw was no longer just a minor infection or the pain of a needle stick—it was that someone could uncover your genetic information. It was about a violation of privacy”

50. “angry—angry that Henrietta’s cells were being sold for twenty-five dollars a vial, and angry that articles”

51. “The fundamental problem here isn’t the money; it’s the notion that the people these tissues come from don’t matter.”

52. “if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors?”

53. “Voodoo,” [Cootie] whispered. “Some peoples sayin Henrietta’s sickness and them cells was man- or woman-made, others say it was doctor-made.”

54. “He told them he was testing their immune systems; he said nothing about injecting them with someone else’s malignant cells.”

55. “When we are prevented from attempting seemingly innocuous studies of cancer behavior in humans … we may mark 1966 as the year in which all medical progress ceased.”

56. “Some of the stories were conjured by white plantation owners taking advantage of the long-held African belief that ghosts caused disease and death. To discourage slaves from meeting or escaping, slave owners told tales of gruesome research done on black bodies, then covered themselves in white sheets and crept around at night, posing as spirits coming to infect black people with disease or steal them for research. Those sheets eventually gave rise to the white hooded cloaks of the Ku Klux Klan.”

57. “The Geys were determined to grow the first immortal human cells: a continuously dividing line of cells all descended from one original sample, cells that would constantly replenish themselves and never die”

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