Bristol, R.I. – Was it right for doctors to harvest a poor black tobacco farmer’s cells without her permission? Opinions vary widely, but one thing is clear – if scientists hadn’t challenged the ethical divide with Henrietta Lacks in 1951, modern medicine might not look the same today.
On Thursday, October 18, David “Sonny” Lacks, will share his mother’s story – immortalized in Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 New York Times bestseller, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” – during Roger Williams University’s annual Common Reading presentation.
Skloot’s book chronicles the story of the woman known to scientists as HeLa. Her cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in-vitro fertilization and more. The bestseller raises questions about exploitation and ethics in scientific experimentation, subjects that are only escalating in importance in contemporary society.
The visit by Sonny Lacks comes as part of the Common Reading program, an annual tradition at Roger Williams University. Faculty, staff and first-year students read a selected text each summer and engage in discussions on the book during the fall semester.
In appearances across the country, Sonny Lacks has shared with audiences what it meant to find out – decades after the fact – that his mother’s cells were being used in laboratories across the world, bought and sold by the millions. He puts a personal face on issues such as the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics and the legal battles over informed consent.
The Common Reading presentation will take place on Thursday, October 18, at 7 p.m. in the Campus Recreation Center on the University’s Bristol campus at One Old Ferry Road. The event is free and open to the public with a ticket. Due to anticipated demand and limited space, some guests may be directed to satellite locations on campus to watch via live video feed.
Please call (401) 254-3210 to reserve a ticket or for more information.