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Throughout the book, Skloot confronts the ethical question as to whether it is possible for her, as a white woman, to write this story without propagating the hurt already done to the Lacks family. Although she believes herself prepared from the start, demonstrating knowledge of the unethical history of white science, she continues to make a conscious effort to conduct her research in a way designed to minimize harm. For example, when Deborah breaks down after the visit to Crownsville, Skloot acknowledges her own role in exposing Deborah to that stress, and from that point forward checks in with Deborah before and after their research trips. She also makes deliberate choices about where she comments on anecdotes from the Lacks family and where she doesn’t. For example, Skloot records Zakariyya’s angry comments from their first meeting in the book without minimizing his anger. When she chronicles Bobette’s belief that Hopkins kidnaps black people to use in research, Skloot includes American doctors’ long history of experimenting on and exploiting black patients, as well as Hopkins’ occasional mistreatment of Baltimore’s black population. Even though Bobette’s exact claims are false, Skloot’s explanations demonstrate that she realizes her readers might misunderstand or look down on Bobette without the proper context.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!