Do you own your own body?

Hela- a play of social responsibility and ethical debate.

Do you own your own body? This might seem like a strange question, but in light of the story of Henrietta Lacks this question is more complicated than it appears.

Henrietta Lacks walked into a hospital in 1951 complaining of a pain in her stomach. She was diagnosed with cancer, but without her knowlege during her examination the doctor took a cell sample. This sample became the basis of a multi-million dollar biotech industry. Known as HeLa cells, they have been grown, copied and modified to be used in many different areas of research from the development of cancer therapies and the polio vaccine to the advancement of IVF and cloning. All of this happened without the permission of Henrietta’s family.

Adura Onashile and Graham Eatough brought this story to the stage at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the show has just finished touring in India with Q Theatre Productions in association with the British Council. The show played to packed out audiences in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. It is a multifaceted production, combining sound, film, movement and text, intertwining genetic identity, social responsibility and current ethical debates about human tissue research and ownership.

By having one actor playing multiple roles, the show embodies the conflict between the scientific history and the story of Henrietta’s life. The audience is forced to jump between numerous perspectives and timeframes, which highlight the complex and conflictingl issues to which this story draws our attention. This also maintains Henrietta’s absence throughout the story; it is a way to instill her absence from public consciousness in the audience’s mind, which is one of the saddest aspects of the story.

HeLa probes the audience to think of questions around social responsibility and brings a sense of urgency to the fact that as medical science pushes at the boundaries in the quest for new knowledge, we need to push to ensure our bodies are respected.

 Post by: Emer Coyle

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