Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is a book I never would have chosen to read on my own.  As  most of my books these days are book club selections rather than my own, this book got read.  But then again that is why I joined a book club, to read books I normally wouldn’t pick up and read on my own.  I went in to this reading tentatively, I hadn’t voted for this book and I really didn’t think that I would like it, but I did.  It wasn’t a can’t put’er down book, but when I choose to sit down and read it, it kept me interested and I didn’t give up.
The book itself is about Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as the HeLa, that was collected in 1951 from her cervical cancer cells.  These cells have been used in multiple research projects and helped lead to the vaccine for polio.  They have been one of the greatest contributions to medical advancement, yet they were essentially stolen from Henrietta and used without her permission.  The book not only finally shares the life of this woman, whose legacy was never imagined in her wildest dreams. It also explores the ethical questions surrounding taking tissue samples used in research with out the patient’s consent and just how much consent needs to be given.  
When I started the book I was outraged that the Lacks family had seen no benefits from the sale of Henrietta’s cells, that her children couldn’t afford health care and her were so poor.  They had limited education and were taken advantage of multiple time, until Ms. Skloot came along to write her novel, no one even bothered to tell them what was really happening with their mother’s cells.  They were in the dark, hearing only tabloid type stories, and no one even tried to reach out to them.  I was so angry, but by the end of the book I could see the scientific communities point of view and their concerns over being able to advance medicine.  I still don’t think the Lacks family was treated well or fairly, but I wasn’t as angry.  
The writing was good, Ms. Skloot tried to tell the facts without being so technical the reader gets lost, she also tried to tell the Lacks story in their own words.  The result is a wonderful humanistic scientific piece.  I'm not sure that is even a real phrase, but that is what it is.  Some of the sections are in the family members own words and were a little harder to read, but all in all Ms. Skloot did an amazing thing bringing Henrietta's story into the light where she could be recognized for her contribution and her family could finally know the truth of what her cells were and what they were doing.
(Read 10/28/13-11/12/13)

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