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Deborah Galyan
College of Arts and Sciences

Last modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012

David Lacks, son of ‘the immortal’ Henrietta Lacks, to speak about race, ethics at IU Bloomington

Nov. 8, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- David "Sonny" Lacks lost his mother, Henrietta Lacks, to cancer in 1951. Unknown to the Lacks family at the time, the world gained an important research tool from cancerous tissue taken from her body. Named HeLa for its unknowing donor, the cell line from Henrietta Lacks has transformed modern medicine, saved countless lives and made biotechnology companies millions of dollars.

David Lacks will offer a first-person perspective on the collision between ethics, race and the commercialization of human tissue at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Indiana Memorial Union's Whittenberger Auditorium on the Indiana University Bloomington campus.


David "Sonny" Lacks

Print-Quality Photo

His appearance is part of Themester 2012's "Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality" theme, exploring good and bad behavior in areas such as scientific and medical ethics, legal rights over ownership of bodily tissues, and race, class and gender issues.

Lacks shares with audiences what it meant to find out -- decades after the fact -- that his mother's cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions. His visit brings a personal face to big issues such as the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, the legal battles over "informed consent," and whether we control the stuff we're made of and should share in the profits.

Though Henrietta Lacks died in 1951, her cells -- alive and growing to this day -- are still the most widely used cell line in the world. The story was told in "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, the best-seller that many critics named one of the best books of 2010.

Each year, Themester, an initiative of Indiana University's College of Arts and Sciences, invites faculty and undergraduate students to explore an idea across the disciplines. This year's theme encompasses moral philosophy, behavioral biology, social sciences, mathematics, cosmology, and literary, visual and dramatic arts in more than 40 courses and an array of related public events, including plays, films, talks and exhibitions, most of which are free and open to the public.

Two Themester 2012 courses will use this event and Skloot's book to enhance their curriculum: "Ethics in Science" (CHEM-G 209) and "When Good Science Goes Bad." (COLL-C 105).

The event is sponsored by the Department of Chemistry, Office of Women's Affairs, City of Bloomington Safe and Civil City Program, American Chemical Society Local Section, College of Arts and Sciences Themester 2012, and Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.