Connections to Henrietta’s Story
Today I was browsing through some of the articles that people has posted on one of the science blogs that Professor Myers suggested we read and I found one particularly interesting. It’s about sperm donors and the problems that are arising from the United States Sperm Bank. I thought is was fascinating because not only does it involve current day issues that I never even thought about, but it is also relates to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” So here is my brief summary of the article, my thoughts, and how it relates to the novel.
The article is called 150 Kids, Anyone? US Sperm Banks Overdoing it and discusses the problems that are arising due to the fact that dozens of women are using the same sperm donor to have children. This means that for one sperm donor there could be 150 children born from that one donor. Both the mothers and the donors did not expect there to be that many, but certain sperm donors are very popular. This has become a problem because there are so many half-siblings now and they may not realize it, which could lead to incest and the spread of certain diseases. The article also brought up the following problem: “American sperm banks don’t keep rigorous records of children born from donor sperm, nor do they limit the number of children born from a particular donor.” I was very shocked by this last fact. I have never really given the idea of sperm banks too much thought, yet it truly surprises me that they would not limit the amount of children or keep good records.
All of this strongly correlates to Henrietta Lacks’ story. One major connection is the problem of record keeping. Throughout the novel Rebecca Skloot has to dig deep to uncover the truths about Henrietta Lacks, who was also called other various names, like Helen Lane. That was the era though; there was no computer system that kept everyone’s names and Henrietta was black, which meant she was not always cared for as she should have been. That seems like a thing of the past though; with computers and other current technologies one would think that record keeping would be no problem. Apparently for the sperm bank it is though, as more and more children are born from the same exact sperm donor. This is sad in that our culture has progressed so much since the 1950’s yet there are still problems such as these. This article also relates to Skloot’s book because of the real people that have to deal with this problem throughout their future. Just like there is a person behind the HeLa cells there are the children, mothers, and donors who all have stories that relate to the problems with the sperm bank. Children who were born using a sperm donor now have to be aware of who they are marrying and always wonder about their various half siblings. Also, HeLa cells are well-known among the science world but otherwise are not given much thought on a daily basis. Yet Henrietta’s family suffered through trying to understand and absorb the fact of the matter. And the idea of sperm donors and banks are also not given much thought by the public, yet everyday a woman may decide to use this method and it will influence the rest of her and her child’s life. It seemed unlikely at first that such an article would connect to Skloot’s book about Henrietta, yet they have very much in common.