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George Gey’s role in the creation of HeLa cells demonstrates that structural racism does not always manifest through malice or greed. Although Dr. Gey didn’t profit from the cells and was not motivated by greed or conscious racism, he still violated Henrietta's right to bodily autonomy and the Lacks family’s right to privacy in taking and distributing Henrietta's cells without their knowledge and consent. That Mary Kubicek didn’t think about the woman behind HeLa cells until she saw Henrietta’s corpse suggests that Gey also thought of the cells as completely separate from the woman whom they belonged to. We can infer that because he believed it safe to release her name years after her death, he didn’t think that the news could harm or upset her family. Part of what makes Gey such a troubling figure is that he appears to have good motivations, and yet still causes great harm to the Lacks family.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!