There’s Still Time to Visit “Informing Consent”

Sandy Magana, Ph.D, Associate Professor in Social Work and Waisman Center, brought her Social Work 952 graduate class to the Ebling Library for the Health Sciences for a two hour visit and discussion of the multi-layered themes in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Professor Magana’s class, made up mostly Social Science PhD students were talking about the history of research in communities of color. The curator’s essay that introduces the exhibit suggests that Skloot might have unfairly framed Henrietta’s doctors in with the stories of Nazi human experiments, the Chester Southam cancer studies and the Tuskegee syphilis trials. The students argued that while Henrietta’s doctors might have been doing research for the greater good, the fact that they tried to keep Henrietta’s identity secret, and that they did not inform the family until well after HeLa had become the cell of choice in research and that there is still a question of remuneration for the cells in a family that can still not afford health insurance; needed to be told in a larger narrative that included various horrors and inequities in human research.

A discussion followed about how well or poorly medical professionals communicate with patients, the role of cultural competency in health sciences schools, and how effective current Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) protocols are even in 2011. They were also intrigued with the story of the African American physician who treated black patients in the 1950s and also treated a famous French artist.

“I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never heard that story,” said one student- affirming for this curator the reason we do exhibits; to highlight material not otherwise available to students, to inform, and to elicit discussion. “Informing Consent” is here until March 31st, please come visit. Ebling Library for the Health Sciences 750 Highland Ave.

Left: Honoring Henrietta. It was important to contextualize Henrietta in 1950s Baltimore. Using artistic license and original Ebony and Good Housekeeping ads and articles we hoped to create the world that Henrietta knew. Readers will recognize the importance of Henrietta’s red nail polish in the Skloot narrative.

Center: Associate Professor Sandy Magana (with book), curator, Micaela Sullivan-Fowler (to her left) and graduate students in SW952: Research Methods in Communities of Color

Right: The radium packet illustration from Richard TeLinde resonates for exhibit visitors, this was part of Henrietta’s treatment.