JoLene's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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Feb 11, 12

bookshelves: pbt, ch12-hist-fictionistas, non-fiction, food-wellness, kindle, read-2012
Read from February 07 to 10, 2012

By now, I think most people have at least heard of this book, so I'm not going to spend much time on the summary. It was on my TBR pile for a while, but when this came out, I had just found out that I had breast cancer. While under treatment, the last thing I wanted to read about was another person who had cancer.

Overall, I found this book extremely readable. I often have a hard time reading non-fiction, but the narrative format really worked for me. Using a timeline at the beginning of the chapter, Skloot intersperses the story of Henrietta, her family, the science that the HeLa cells line enabled, and the ethical issues of informed consent, privacy and profitting from medical research. As someone who has directly benefited (although I suppose most of us have) from the research, I was most interested in the scientific aspects of the book.

The story of Henrietta's family is heartbreaking and at times, difficult to read. Their story highlights how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty. The fact that drug companies have made billions selling drugs that were tested on the HeLa cell line and her family got no compensation is unjust. However, Skloot highlights the fact that this situation could happen to any one of us still today. I was also fascinated by how the ethical issues evolved over the years. As an example, the discovery of the human genome during this time raised privacy issues since Henrietta's children share her DNA.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a thought-provoking examination of medical research ethics.

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