Deborah passes her thirtieth birthday with no health crisis and continues to work several jobs. In 1980, she marries a mechanic called James Pullum. Eventually, Deborah tells him about Henrietta. He replies that the family should hire a lawyer.
Yet again Skloot juxtaposes the personal struggles of the Lacks family members with the sweeping scientific changes HeLa is involved in.
Zakariyya, meanwhile, is paroled after seven years in prison. He continues to have problems with anger and alcohol, and can’t hold down a job; most nights, he ends up homeless. When Day tries to help Zakariyya, however, his son refuses him. He hates his father for burying Henrietta in an unmarked grave and for leaving the Lacks children with Ethel.
The fractures within the Lacks family continue to show, especially when it comes to Zakariyya. It’s important to note, however, that Zakariyya’s anger at Day still revolves around Henrietta, as the tragedy of her loss continues to ripple outward.
Day and his fellow workers participate in a class-action lawsuit because of asbestos exposure at Bethlehem Steel. Awarded $12,000, Day gives $2,000 to each of his children. Deborah buys a piece of land in Clover. Sonny has fallen on hard times, and ends up in jail for dealing drugs. Deborah’s son Alfred Jr., too, begins getting arrested. He joins the Marines but then goes AWOL to continue his criminal behavior, at which point Deborah disowns him.
Another pattern becomes clear by this point: the way that poverty, mistreatment,and lack of access to education leads to a cycle of crime and despair. Despite Deborah’s best efforts, both her brother (Sonny) and her son (Alfred) continue to live on the wrong side of the law.
Deborah learns that she can request Henrietta’s medical records from Hopkins, but she delays doing so out of fear. In 1985, a university publishes a book from a science reporter called Michael Gold about HeLa contamination and Walter Nelson-Rees. It is called A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman’s Immortal Legacy and the Medical Scandal it Caused.
The world of HeLa and the world of the Lacks family slowly starts to converge, but there is still a huge disconnect between what the Lackses actually know about their mother and what the scientific community is actually doing.
Deborah buys a copy of the book and begins to read about her mother. Gold has gotten access to Henrietta’s medical records and the famous photo of her, despite the fact that no one from the family ever gave permission for them to be released. Gold describes the pain and suffering surrounding Henrietta’s death, devastating Deborah.
The press and the medical establishment continue to work together—however unknowingly—to disempower the Lackses. Now better aware of her mother’s role in history, Deborah is incredibly sensitive to any and all press about Henrietta. The book in question only adds to her upset and fear, without really helping her better understand her mother’s legacy.
When asked, Michael Gold cannot recall how he got the records; he remembers speaking with Victor McKusick and Howard Jones, and believes that Jones gave him the picture of Henrietta that he used in the book. Jones, however, doesn’t remember speaking to Gold, and denies that he or McKusick would ever release medical records.
The story grows muddy as no one steps up to take responsibility for violating Henrietta’s privacy. It is clear, though, that yet again, the medical establishment has paid no attention to the Lackses, and has made no effort to gain their consent.
Rebecca explains that it isn’t illegal for a journalist to publish medical records, but wonders why Gold didn’t attempt to speak to Henrietta’s family. When she asks, he says that he tried to get in touch, but was never able to do so. Rebecca goes on to discuss the history of patient confidentiality, which is even mentioned in the Hippocratic Oath. In the eighties, however, this stricture was a moral limit, not a legal one.
Rather than condemn her fellow reporter, Skloot takes a more measured approach, discussing the history of patient privacy. Although she acknowledges that no one has violated any laws, she does hold the scientists in question to moral standards as well, implying that they have undoubtedly violated some of those.