Monday, March 15, 2010
Light of the World, Jamestown, NC
I found a March 9, 2010, article in USA Today extraordinarily intriguing. It contains an interview with author Rebecca Skloot who has written, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Henrietta was a poor African-American who moved to Baltimore during World War II so that her husband could get work in the steel plants. They had five children and opened their house to anyone needing shelter, with Henrietta sometimes cooking meals for 12 people sleeping in the halls. She was the ultimate caretaker for others. Then she discovered a cervical cancer tumor in 1951 and passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital eight months later at age 31.
Scientists had routinely taken Pap smears from everyone without their permission or knowledge since the 1940's. The cells then died. Henrietta Lack's cells were labeled HeLa and cultured as a matter of procedure. But, Henrietta's cells NEVER died and they are still living some 60 years later. No one knows why! A lab in Alabama has been mass producing her cells at a rate of 3 trillion HeLa cells a week and selling them for $250 a vial. They have been used for everything such as creating the first polio vaccine, cancer medications, Parkinson's drugs, space flight analysis and the first cloned cells.
Henrietta's family did not know that her cells had lived on for 25 years and they currently have no legal rights to them. Henrietta's daughter, Deborah Lacks, believes that her mother was chosen to continue her loving caretaker role. And in this exploding age of scientific discovery where conventional boundaries are forever being challenged, one has to also wonder if this woman has ever died. Her cells and DNA live on, literally all over the world today. No other human being has ever experienced this phenomenom. And what of her soul? I've always thought that even though a person might lose a limb, their character and soul remain with their living organism. God is a conscious spiritual being and we are conscious earthly beings. We were created in his image, so we can expect parallels in our existence. His being occupies the universe like our soul occupies our body. Therefore, our soul doesn't occupy any one region of our body, but the entire living organism. Our soul is released once the organism dies, but Henrietta's cells remain alive and scattered over the entire world. Perhaps her soul does indeed live on and continues to care for her fellow man as long as there is a need for her HeLa cells to live on. Or perhaps, the soul departs on the last breath of life.