The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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Great! Without these cells perhaps we'd still be in the medical 70s. So where's the story? Skloots pretty much just presents the facts and allows the reader to come to her own conclusion. Should we be paid for the bits and pieces that are removed from our bodies? Cysts, appendixes, gall bladders, moles? Should we be informed that these will be used, sold or given away? I think we can all have our personal opinions on that matter.
But what about sharing medical records without our consent? Publishing our names in medical journals or publishing our medical records after our death? What about using someone's blood for something other than what we've given consent for? Or keeping patients and their families in the dark, not deeming them smart enough to give them the time of day and explain things in a language they can understand? The arrogance of the medical community is bared throughout the book.
At the same time, we get an amazing look at Henrietta's family. With no more than an elementary school education, infected with syphillis, battling poverty, racism, ignorance, the legacy of slavery, hopelessness - we get to know Deborah, Zacarryya, Sonny, Lawrence - Henrietta's children, and my heart breaks for them in all their irrationality and ignorance. Deborah especially is obsessed with learning about her mother. But they've been lied to, cheated and bamboozled by so many people that they trust no one. The children don't understand the concept of cells, they don't know if their mother is somehow alive and cloned, if she's half woman, half tobacco plant - there's just no concept in their head to help them understand these HeLa cells.
The glimmer of hope in this book lies with Henrietta's great-grandchildren. Right about when I was starting to wonder about the purpose of these lives, I got the to Epilog and felt there might be hope for the future of the Lack descendants.
Totally readable - actually parts of it read like a bizarre novel. Highly recommended.