Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is both a fascinating story of cells that proliferated and benefitted countless number of people who suffered from a wide array of disorders and a tale that highlights the enormous divide between the races and between different economic levels.

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks , a poor Africa-American woman, died of cervical cancer. Her five young children grew up without a mother and without any knowledge of what had happened to her cells.

She received treatment in the "colored" ward of John Hopkins. When she died her tissue was removed and cultured without any prior permission and those cells were the first to reproduce in a lab. They were named HeLa and would , in time, become available to labs all over the world.

Rebecca Skloot reminds readers that Henrietta was more than cells. The poverty of the family is palpable and while their mothers's cells earned money for a number of pharmaceutical firms they were without medical insurance. Perhaps some of the medicines they used were discovered through the use of their mother's cells.

I wonder if Skloot knew it would take her years to complete this book, to gain the trust of Henrietta's children? Many ethical questions are raised and certainly things have changed since 1951.

What these children, now adults, wanted was to know more about their mother. And in some respects Skloot was able to provide them with some personal information.

What the reader is left with is the awareness of the gulf that exists between races and social classes.

Ebook Challenge

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