Friday, February 10, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is one of those "everyone has read it but me" books that sounded interesting, but languished on my e-reader. And then I started it while waiting at the doctor's office, an experience much like the time I read The Stand while I had the flu.

Henrietta Lacks had cervical cancer--a particularly aggressive strain. Despite the care she received at Johns Hopkins (segregated and with little bedside manner, but using the known medicine of the time), Henrietta died...and her cells lived. A swipe of her cells produced the first "immortal" cells: cells that keep dividing in medium and don't die.

Henrietta's cells were taken at a time when no consent was required, so changes in medical ethics are a part of this book. Henrietta's life, and the lives of her descendents, is another. The heart, though, is the tension between ends of the spectrum in the question of whether it's okay that Henrietta and her family were never recognized or compensated when her cells have been part of the last 60ish years of really important medical breakthroughs.

I found it fascinating, and I think this is a really interesting pick for book clubs. (I totally missed the original wave of popularity, but this is on my to-give list for the future.)

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