Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Religion

Religion played some pivotal roles in the stories of Henrietta Lacks' family as told in this work. As the author, a Jewish woman, gets more involved in the search to learn more about Henrietta's life and family, she has several dramatic encounters with Lacks' family's Christian faith. In a dramatic prayer experience with Deborah and her cousin, and in a worship service at Sonny's grand-daughter's baptism, particularly, Christian prayer and worship plays a powerful role in helping the family make sense of the complicated issues they're struggling through.

In these two situations or in others in the book, how does religion play a role in the story? How is it alike or different from your own theology, practice and faith?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Social Issues

"The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks," as it traced intertwined stories in Henrietta Lacks' family, the history of medical research, and Rebecca Skloot's journalistic work, opens up so many discussions of contemporary issues.

Our United Methodist Church has crafted statements on social issues, affirming that our theology has consequence for contemporary issues. Here's a portion of the intriduction to our Social Principles (as of 2008):

The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. The Social Principles are a call to all members of The United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice.

As I read through our Social Principles, I see so many that have implications in the stories of this book. Below, I'll list excerpts from 6 of our Social Principles. I invite you to comment on ways you see these Principles' implications in the stories of the book. (You can find the whole text of the Social Principles by clicking through the links here.)

(from paragraph 160: The Natural World)
F. Science and Technology
We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology. We recognize medical, technical, and scientific technologies as legitimate uses of God’s natural world when such use enhances human life and enables all of God’s children to develop their God-given creative potential without violating our ethical convictions about the relationship of humanity to the natural world. We reexamine our ethical convictions as our understanding of the natural world increases. We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God’s creation and word are enhanced.

(from paragraph 162: The Social Community)
The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or economic status. Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons leads us to call for the recognition, protection, and implementation of the principles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights.

(from paragraph 162: The Social Community)
A. Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons
Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. White people are unfairly granted privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. Racism breeds racial discrimination. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access to resources and opportunities in the church and in society based on race or ethnicity. … We assert the obligation of society and groups within the society to implement compensatory programs that redress long-standing, systemic social deprivation of racial and ethnic people. …

(from paragraph 162: The Social Community)
N. Medical Experimentation
Physical and mental health has been greatly enhanced through discoveries by medical science. It is imperative, however, that governments and the medical profession carefully enforce the requirements of the prevailing medical research standard, maintaining rigid controls in testing new technologies and drugs utilizing human beings. The standard requires that those engaged in research shall use human beings as research subjects only after obtaining full, rational, and uncoerced consent.

(from paragraph 162: The Social Community)
W. Organ Transplantation and Donation
We believe that organ transplantation and organ donation are acts of charity, agape love, and self-sacrifice. We recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and other tissue donation and encourage all people of faith to become organ and tissue donors as a part of their love and ministry to others in need. We urge that it be done in an environment of respect for deceased and living donors and for the benefit of the recipients, and following protocols that carefully prevent abuse to donors and their families.

(from paragraph 163: the Economic Community)
A. Property
We believe private ownership of property is a trusteeship under God, both in those societies where it is encouraged and where it is discouraged, but is limited by the overriding needs of society. We believe that Christian faith denies to any person or group of persons exclusive and arbitrary control of any other part of the created universe. Socially and culturally conditioned ownership of property is, therefore, to be considered a responsibility to God. We believe, therefore, governments have the responsibility, in the pursuit of justice and order under law, to provide procedures that protect the rights of the whole society as well as those of private ownership.

Where do you see these principles violated (or upheld) in the story?