Dr Oz: Rebecca Skloot Reveals Racism Around Henrietta Lacks’ Story
Dr Oz, who was having a discussion with actress Rose Byrn and Oprah Winfrey about Henrietta Lacks and her contribution to medical science, then welcomed Rebecca Skloot. Skloot is the author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” the book that was recently made into a movie on HBO.
Rebecca remembered getting a phone call from Oprah at 5:00 in the morning after she had just finished the book. Rebecca was blown away at getting to hear the immediate emotion in Oprah’s voice after she had just gotten to the end of the story. So much of the phone call was about what Deborah’s life meant to Oprah so Rebecca loved hearing the emotion in Oprah’s voice.
Rebecca Skloot’s Audio Tapes & Video of Deborah Lacks
Rebecca shared that she had actually gone through the audio tapes of her conversations with Deborah and during one car ride, she had told Rebecca that the book would be published, become a best-seller, and then turn into a movie in which Oprah would play her. All of those things have now come true.
Rose admitted that she was under a lot of pressure to do Henrietta justice. She was dealing with a New York Times Best-Selling book as well as the life story of a woman who changed the face of medicine forever. She shared that each person on set likely felt that pressure but they all leaned on each other. It helped that they had great support from the Lack family. Of course, they also tried to have fun while doing it, but as Oprah stated, they had fun while doing it.
Dr Oz: Deborah Lacks’ Dream To Be Played By Oprah
Dr Oz then shared that Deborah actually passed away nine months before the book was released, which means she was never given the opportunity to see the things she predicted would happen because of her story and the story of her mother. As for what Deborah would think, Skloot joked that she would likely want to say “I told you so” but she would be ecstatic. She even had a dress picked out that she would wear on the Oprah Show years before the book even came out. When she died, the cover had just been finished and Skloot had actually called to tell her about it and learned then that Deborah had passed.
Did Deborah Lacks Die Before Rebecca Skloot Published Her Book?
Skloot found it to be absolutely devastating that Deborah was a part of the entire process up until it became an actual, physical book. Deborah was never able to hold the book in her hands. But she was able to do a reading in front of Deborah’s family, who reassured her that Deborah was most certainly there no matter where she was. Oprah agreed that she always feels Deborah’s presence and knows that they certainly did her proud.
Now, the Lacks family is involved in a foundation as well as educational events. One of them even just became a registered nurse.
The Racist Undercurrent in Henrietta Lacks’ Story
Dr Oz then wanted to ask about how cells were taken from people and how race played a factor in Henrietta’s story. He asked Skloot if she thought the Lacks family was fairly treated. Skloot explained that some of what they’re talking about depends on the generation, but overall, no they weren’t. She pointed out that the story is essentially about multiple generations of one family used in research without their consent. In the 50’s, when cells were taken from Henrietta, it was standard practice at the time. There was no such thing as informed consent.
Henrietta Lacks & Racism
Henrietta ended up at that hospital because as a black woman, the segregated hospital was the only place at which she could get top-of-the-line treatment. It may sound wrong to us, but at that present time, no laws were broken.
However, in the 70’s scientists went back to Henrietta’s children to do research on them to learn more about the cells and there was such thing as informed consent. However, scientists made no effort to explain to them what was going on. Skloot acknowledged that the situation likely would have been different if they had been a white family or a family of money.
Dr Oz then played a scene from the movie that addressed issues of race. Skloot explained that the family didn’t trust her at all because of everything they went through. Fortunately they ended up letting her in so that she could share their story.