Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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I’m not the target audience, perhaps, for this book. The premise is simple- there’s this thing in biology/medicine that’s just kind of taken for granted, called HeLa, and this book tells the back story. Well, I knew nothing about HeLa (it’s an immortal cancerous cell culture), but I found this book fascinating.

The book tells the story of two paths diverging and meeting again. One path is the culture, taken from a woman without consent, and used in basically every important medical discovery in the last 60 years. The other path is the path of her family, after she died, who didn’t even know tissue was taken, let alone that part of her still lived in, and the turmoil of finding out about it years later.

Through the story of one woman and her family, big issues of medical ethics, consent, the greater good and more come up. When I get a blood test, do I still own my blood? Do I get to say if the blood can be used for medical testing for a new vaccine? Do I get to determine if my blood can be used to test a new weapon?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

James

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