Michelle Athy's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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bookshelves: 2016-books

In 1951, a poor black woman named Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a medical exam. It turned out that she had a very aggressive form of cervical cancer and though she was treated with radiation and with tubes full of radium inserted beside her cervix and sewn shut into her (my God), Henrietta died after only a few months. However, the cancerous cells of her cervix had been taken during an exam and somehow, they thrived in a laboratory culture--they kept multiplying over and over, becoming the first cell line to grow in culture.

I'd never heard of the HeLa cells--I'm not at all a sciency type--but we've all collectively benefitted from these cells because scientists have been able to experiment on them to develop vaccines or to test medications on viruses or other bacteria, to see what might happen on a cellular level if the cells are combined with other factors. I, for one, am grateful to live in an age where my (admittedly mild) asthma probably won't kill me, where we have vaccines for shit like measles and polio, or a relative has been able to thrive after transplant.

But in 1951, there was no such thing as informed consent. There was no HIPPA. Henrietta's cervical tissue was simply scrapped off her tumor and grown in culture, traded and bought and sold among scientific community for decades--and she nor her family were ever informed, never mind compensated.

Skloot delves into Henrietta's family and reading about their realization of what their mother's cells were doing in the world was incredible, particularly when juxtaposed with her family's very real struggles as impoverished people. People are making millions off of HeLa and her descendants couldn't afford medical insurance! Ain't that just America.

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Reading Progress

July 25, 2016 – Shelved
July 25, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
October 3, 2016 – Started Reading
October 4, 2016 –
page 26
October 5, 2016 –
page 67
October 6, 2016 –
page 135
October 6, 2016 –
page 135
35.34% "This doctor is injecting people with cancerous cells without telling them, watching them grow tumors, and not telling them--all for research. Yeesh."
October 9, 2016 –
page 170
October 10, 2016 –
page 200
October 11, 2016 –
page 225
October 13, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-books
October 13, 2016 – Finished Reading

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