Is Henrietta Lacks Really Immortal?

Date & Time

Wed, 04/04/2012


Exploring Ethics: Is Henrietta Lacks Really Immortal? (Video)

What is the Relationship Between Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells? (Op-Ed)


Scholars of three major world religions bridged science and spirituality when they joined forces on April 4 to answer an intriguing question: Can a deceased woman be considered “alive” if cells taken from her body continue to proliferate?

“Is Henrietta Lacks Really Immortal?” was the 8th forum in the “Exploring Ethics Henrietta Lacks” series at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and it featured a panel of three speakers – a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Christian – comparing issues of religious faith at the heart of the bestselling book by Rebecca Skloot.

Moderator Mark Mann framed the discussion by underscoring the need for intellectual diversity in public discourse. “Religion is a significant part of the conversation for much that deals with public policy,” said Mann, who is an Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Wesleyan Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University. “A secular society should include religious voices.”

Khaleel Mohammed, Associate Professor of Religion at San Diego State University, began by observing that Islamic law, like U.S. law, struggles with the need to balance individual rights with the greater good of society. Because Henrietta’s cells have been used to conquer disease, he said, “From a religious point of view, some may consider her as being specially blessed [and] having lived the life of a martyr.”

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To view a recording of this event, please click here.


Mark Mann, Moderator
Point Loma Nazarene University

Dr. Mark H. Mann has served as Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Wesleyan Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University since 2008. Previous to this, Mark was a faculty member at Colgate University, where he also served as chaplain (he has been actively involved in church ministry since the early 1990s). Mark’s chief area of scholarly interest is Christian theology in its engagement with contemporary culture, science, and world religions, as expressed in his ‘Perfecting Grace: Christian Holiness and the Human Sciences’ (Continuum, 2007).

Michael Lodahl
Professor of Theology and World Religions, Point Loma Nazarene University

Dr. Michael Lodahl is Professor of Theology and World Religions at Point Loma Nazarene University, where he has taught since 1999. As arguably the preeminent theologian of the Church of the Nazarene, Michael has published on a wide variety of theologically related topics. His popular ‘Story of God: A Narrative Theology’ is currently in its second edition with Beacon Hill Press (2008) and he is currently working on a follow-up to his critically acclaimed ‘Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side’ (Brazos, 2010). Michael is a popular and engaging speaker who is frequently asked to speak on a variety of theological and ethical topics to audiences around the world.

Khaleel Mohammed
Associate Professor of Religion, San Diego State University

Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, an Islamic law specialist, is associate professor of Religion at San Diego State University (SDSU) and a core faculty member of SDSU’s Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies. He is author of numerous publications in topics such as Islamic and Arabic studies, Islamic law (classical and modern), comparative religion, Jewish/Christian/Islamic encounter, Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, gender/sex issues and sexuality in Islam, terrorism, antisemitism in Islam, Arab-Israeli relations, and reform in Islam. Mohammed teaches courses on World Religions, The Qur’an, Religious Violence and Non-Violence, Sex and Gender in Islam. and Abrahamic Religions.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Diego

Dr. Karma Lekshe Tsomo is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at the University of San Diego. Her primary academic interests include women in Buddhism, Buddhism and bioethics, religion and cultural change, and Buddhism in the United States. In addition to her academic work, she is actively involved in interfaith dialogue and in grassroots initiatives for the empowerment of women. She is president of Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women ( and director of Jamyang Foundation (, an initiative to provide educational opportunities for women in the Indian Himalayas and Bangladesh. She is author of numerous books, including most recently, ‘Into the Jaws of Yama: Buddhism, Bioethics, and Death’ (SUNY Press, 2006) and ‘Sisters in Solitude: Two Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Ethics for Women, A Comparative Analysis of the Dharmagupta and Mulasarvastivada Bhiksuni Pratimoksa Sutras’ (SUNY Press, 1996).