Gey took any cells he could get his hands on—he called himself “the world’s most famous vulture, feeding on human specimens almost constantly.”

This quotation appears in Chapter 3 when George Gey enters the narrative. Gey has an eccentricity that might seem endearing, or even typical of a scientist, but most of these descriptions have a darker side, implying that he often loses sight of humanity in his scientific zeal. He jokingly refers to himself as a vulture because of his search for human tissue to culture. However, “vulture” usually has a negative connotation, describing someone who profits from others’ misfortunes. While Gey doesn’t profit financially from HeLa cells, he uses them for his own ends without truly considering the person they came from. 

Gey paid his way through a biology degree at the University of Pittsburgh by working as a carpenter and mason, and he could make nearly anything for cheap or free. 

This quotation comes from Chapter 4, as Skloot describes Gey’s background. Gey seems to have been something close to a self-made man, coming from a poor background and relying on both his and his wife’s ingenuity throughout his life. Even though Gey does not appear to be the kind of person who would take advantage of a dying Black woman, he nevertheless uses Henrietta’s cells while losing sight that they came from a real person with a family. Anyone, no matter their background or intention, has the potential to cause harm in the pursuit of science. 

Many of Gey’s colleagues pressured him to publish research papers so he could get credit for his work, but he always said he was too busy.

This quotation appears in Chapter 13, as HeLa cells become more and more ubiquitous in scientific research. Although Gey has moved forward in his work, people primarily come to him for information about HeLa. Unlike most people in his position, Gey has his eyes purely on the next discovery or insight, as opposed to worrying about being properly compensated or credited. His scientific zeal is admirable but often hurts those around him. In this case, his wife ends up having to write a paper for him.

When he awoke from anesthesia and found out there would be no GeGe line, he was furious. If this cancer was going to kill him, he wanted it to help advance science in the process. 

This illuminating quotation appears in Chapter 22, as George Gey himself contracts pancreatic cancer and is dying. During his treatment, he requests the surgeons to biopsy his tumor so that he can create a line of immortal cells from it. However, the surgeons fear that cutting into the tumor could kill him. Gey’s reaction demonstrates that for him, the choice between dying for science and living a bit longer has a clear and obvious answer in favor of science. His value system offers insight into why he probably never considers the personal effects of taking the cells from Henrietta.

On their thirtieth wedding anniversary, George gave Margaret a check for one hundred dollars, along with a note scribbled on the back of an aluminum oxide wrapper: “Next 30 years not as rough. Love, George.”

This quotation appears in chapter 24, as Skloot explains that money was never George Gey’s motive in contrast to the Lacks family’s belief. Here, he promises his wife that they’ll have an easier life in the next thirty years, a darkly humorous apology for spending most of their money to further his research. Just as his passion for science puts a strain on his personal life, it is his pure science-driven mind, not monetary greed, that created the situation the Lacks family faces.