Monday, August 9

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


I read this book at the beach this summer. While it's a sad story, it's one of those I'm glad I read because it should be known. 
The author, Rebecca Skloot, meticulously researched the story of Lacks, a poor black woman from Virginia, who after moving to Baltimore, was treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer. The book details the emergence of cellular technologies using Lacks' cells without her or her family's knowledge. The cells, known as HeLa, are still cultured and sold today. The family has never received any compensation and precious little recognition. 
Skloot's persistence in trying to obtain interviews with Lacks' family paid off as she gained the trust of Henrietta's children, one by one. Her relationship with them reveals a heartbreaking story of a family who just wants to understand...and to afford health care. 
It seems a mind-boggling conspiracy story, though there was no real conspiracy, just the hospital systematically taking advantage of the poor community just outside its doors. Sadly, this was not uncommon practice at Johns Hopkins for many, many years. 
Lacks' story is one of a wrong that cannot be made right, but knowledge is power against the repetition of such things. 

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