George Gey is introduced into The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks as the head of tissue-culture research at John Hopkins hospital. He was about 52 years old when he discovered the immortality of Henrietta’s cells, and this was most likely the peak of his life, thanks to this brilliant discovery. However, he came from an interesting background. Gey was born in 1889 and grew up with his parents in Pittsburgh. He was always adventurous and liked to make do with what he had. He was always looking for new discoveries and this is what led him to find that Henrietta’s cells were, in fact, immortal.
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Gey was an extremely creative and well respected doctor in the medical field, but in regards to the decisions he made, others might have a slightly varying opinion. At first in the book, Skloot explains how creative and imaginative Gey was using the quote, “During his [Gey] second year in medical school, he rigged a microscope with a time-lapse motion picture camera to capture live cells on film. It was a Frankensteinish mishmash of microscope parts, glass, and 16-millimeter camera equipment from who knows where, plus metal scraps and old motors from Shapiros Junkyard. (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 8) The use of the word Frankensteinish implies that although the machine may have looked frightening and not very well put together, it was still a creation of something magnificent. A few years later Gey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and had to undergo an emergency procedure. He requested that his surgeons take samples of his tumors just as they had earlier with Henrietta. However, once the surgeons viewed the cancer they discovered that if any samples were taken, Gey would have died.
Gey was furious and Skloot quotes, “If this cancer was going to kill him, he wanted it to elp advance science in the process. ” (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 170-171) This shows Geys true character. He was willing to die, as long as he knew it was going to help others in the future. Most decisions he made were very respected, however some were not at all. Henrietta’s family, Zakariyya in particular, did not feel that Gey deserved any respect from them. When Skloot payed a visit to Zakariyya he was filled with rage and hatred towards Gey as he quotes, “l believe what them doctors did was wrong.
They lied to us for twenty-five years, kept them cells from us, hen they gonna say them things donated by our mother. Them cells was stolen! Those fools come take blood from us sayin they need to run tests and not tell us that all these years they done profitized off of her? That’s like hanging a sign on our backs saying, ‘I’m a sucker, kick me in my butt. ‘ People don’t know we Just as po’ as po. They probably think by what our mother cells had did that we well off. I hope George Grey burn in hell. If he wasn’t dead already, I’d take a black pitchfork and stick it up his ass. ” (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 46) In this passage, although it sounds ike anger, it expresses how hurt Zakariyya really is about the decisions George Gey made. He believes that it was not right to keep Henrietta’s family in the dark for so many years about what was really happening to their mother. In spite of the way Gey approached the situation of taking Henrietta’s cells, he was still an exceptional doctor and discovered something magnificent. Regarding Geys personal and moralistic decisions, most of them would have been considered wrong. Gey was interviewed on what he had been doing with the cells and also what he hoped to achieve with the cells.
However Skloot made a point to include this quote, “In Geys one appearance on television, he didn’t mention Henrietta or her cells by name, so the general public knew nothing of HeLa. ” (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 56) Gey did not feel the need to include or give any credit to Henrietta for all of her contributions to his research. Earlier in the book, they referred to Henrietta Just as a “specimen” not even giving her the respect of being called a human being. Not only did Gey try to hide Henrietta, but he flat out lied about her as well. One of Geys lab assistants quotes, I’ll never forget it…
George told me he leaned over Henrietta’s bed and said, Your cells will make you immortal. ‘ He told Henrietta her cells would help save the lives of countless people, and she smiled. She told him she was glad her pain would come to some good for someone. ” (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 66) Gey claims to have met Henrietta, but there is no record of this encounter except for this one. Everyone else Skloot interviewed said that they had no knowledge of this encounter. Gey made an effort to make himself look a little better for what he did, even though it othing but a lie.
The worst decision Gey could have possibly made, however, was taking Henrietta’s cells without permission. Skloot quotes, “But first Though no one had told Henrietta the TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor Wharton picked up a sharp knife, and shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor and one from the healthy pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s nearby. ” (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks p. 33) Even though Gey was not the actual doctor to remove Henrietta’s cells from her body, he till utilized them in his research with prior knowledge of Henrietta not giving consent.
Nothing was legally wrong with this at that time, but when it comes to morals, nothing was right about it. Gey did deserve much credit for the discoveries he made and his contributions to cancer research, but so did Henrietta, and she was not allowed this for a very long time. Everyone has their faults, and the fame and glory Just got to Gey, and he forgot what he was really doing with those cells. He was helping people. What he did may have been wrong, but his discoveries still benefited the cancer research field and the lives of others tremendously.