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Disappointing New TED-Ed Video & Lesson On Henrietta Lacks


As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of TED-Ed videos and lessons – if you search this blog, you’ll find 145 posts sharing them.

For any organization with such a prodigious output, there are going to be some hits and misses, but TED-Ed has maintained a very high standard.

Which is why I was very surprised and disappointed at their newest video and lesson on “The immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks.”

You probably are somewhat familiar with the story of the young African-American woman whose cells were taken from her (without her knowledge) and are now used around the world for medical research and which have generated huge profits for drug companies. Shockingly, the video only spends seconds on these issues and the lesson itself only briefly touches on those ethical and racial issues.

Check the video and lesson out and let me know if you think I’m over-reacting. Below the video, you can find additional resources on the issue that can be used to help students learn more…

Henrietta Lacks’s cells were priceless, but her family can’t afford a hospital is from The Guardian.

Ethical Justice, But No Financial Rewards, For The Henrietta Lacks Family is from Forbes.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Sequel is from The New York Times.

Henrietta Lacks: the mother of modern medicine is from The Guardian.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Yes you over reacted. Every resource can’t do everything. That is a 4 minute video. A primer for further discussion that one might use in a science class to begin a unit on cell division or genetics. It opens the door for a more comprehensive look at the controversy and ethics involving HeLa but that was not its goal.

    By the way, I found it quite patronizing that you recommend a video with black kids rapping as an acceptable alternative.

    Your privilege is showing.

    • It would not have required much to add a comment to the video about its questionable ethics, as most videos or articles about Lacks have done. Many others agree with me, including the author of the well-known book that was made into a move about her.

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