As someone who doesn’t know jackshit about science or biology – I found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot riveting (FYI, I notice I say riveting A LOT in my reviews, what of it?). In the 1950s, Henrietta Lacks, a young Black woman died of cervical cancer, yet her cells live on. You see, the doctors took her cancer cells which didn’t die like normal cells, but kept on multiplying.
Skloot asks ethical questions as she weaves a spellbinding narrative of the Lacks family history right up to present day. She does not portray the members of the Lacks family as perfect people, nor does she ridicule them. Their story is unfortunate. There are corporations who are getting rich off of the HeLa cells and the Lackses can’t even afford to go to the doctor. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks calls to question current medical consent practices – particularly when it comes to tissues samples. Skloot debates whether patient consent helps or inhibits scientific progress and weighs arguments from both sides of the fence.
Who knew SCIENCE could be interesting? Granted, there is a human face on The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, but the bits about how they used the cells to develop vaccines and search for cures is fascinating. It’s nuts how widespread the HeLa cells are. For example, the HeLa cells multiple so rapidly that they have been known to contaminate other cell cultures and cause millions of dollars of damage. BUT the cells have done good things – like they were used to test the Polio vaccine which eventually led to the cure of Polio.
Yet, if we delve deeper into The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot there is a scary undercurrent theme of the treatment of nonwhite people by the medical system historically. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks spends some time talking about the Tuskagee syphilis study wherein doctors would inject young black men with syphilis and just kind of leave them with the syphilis even after they found the cure just to see what would happen. Those men did not have a clear understanding of what they had signed up for. ALSO there are parts about this place called the Institution For The Negro Insane and goes into how poorly the patients were treated there – overcrowded conditions, beating, etc. It is no wonder that the Lackses in the book have a distrust of medical professionals.
Ultimately, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot allowed me to form an opinion on a topic that I knew nothing about previously and educated me as to how scary things are done in the name of progress. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks is definitely an intriguing story and one that took me out of my comfort zone.
Disclosure: Borrowed from the local library.