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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Following the horrendous medical research performed by the Nazis, the 1947 Nuremberg War Tribunal put together a ten point code the first of which is "The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential." But because this was a rule and not a law, it was mostly ignored by the scientific and medical community in the U.S. and in 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, cancerous cells (HeLa) were removed from the patient, Henrietta Lacks without her knowledge and reproduced in labs throughout the world.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not only about the use of these cells, but of Henrietta's life and that of her descendants. Although there were many advantages to using these cells for research, which resulted in a vaccination for polio, many were injected into unsuspecting people resulting in the development of cancer in their bodies (they were told the serum injected was to find out if they had cancer!). Three Jewish doctors refused to perform the procedure without the patient's informed consent and sent a letter of resignation stating the practice was illegal, immoral and deplorable. Henrietta's children wanted to know why, if people were making millions of dollars from their mother's cells and others benefiting from the research, they - her children - couldn't even afford health insurance.

My thoughts:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is well written and Rebecca Skloot gives the reader insight into how she researched the life of Henrietta Lacks and gives an account of her meetings with the Lacks family. At the top of each chapter she shows a timeline, marking the time the story is taking place. Despite researchers and laboratories making millions from these cells, Henrietta's family neither knew, nor were compensated. They were a poor family and their mother was buried in an unmarked grave. Sadly, Johns Hopkins wanted his legacy to be a a hospital where poor people could receive free medical treatment and he chose a black community to build the hospital, but that community listened to rumors and saw it as a place where poor people could be abducted for medical research. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks would be a great book club read.

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