Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Consequences of Immortality: Read about Henrietta Lacks!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot
(Book Recommendation)
Picture from Wikipedia.org

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not a memoir, but it is a story of sorts.  In fact, it is a combination of stories entwined together by one common link, Henrietta Lacks, and the cells taken from her without consent, which changed the world of science as we know it, and forever affected the family she left behind. 

The author, Rebecca Skloot, spent ten years writing this book due to the amount of research, interviews, finding the right editor and publisher, but mostly due to the emotional toil it took on her as she witnessed the pain the story caused the family of Henrietta Lacks (particularly the unforgettable daughter, Deborah Lacks).  Skloot wanted to tell the story truthfully from all sides – the scientific perspective as well as the family’s perspective. 

Here are SIX reasons you should read this book:

1.  You will learn more about the history of cell research, cell cultures, genetics, and the process of scientific research than you probably ever remember learning in school.  And, here’s the kicker, it will interest you.

2.  You will be introduced to a family full of unique personalities whose trials and tribulations will astound, shock, and touch you.  (Quite honestly, I finished reading this book while peddling a stationary bike at the gym and I was choking back tears as my nose was running. So consider yourself forewarned – read privately and save yourself some embarrassment.)

3.  You will learn that research has at times had a sordid and often unethical  history.  It could anger you.  It could sicken you.  But, hopefully, it will make you think and question the ethics of today’s science and research. 

4.  The author, Rebecca Skloot, managed to balance the conflicting issues, scientific experimentation versus the affects on the family, very well.  Scientists are not evil, but there are some moral questions that may need to be addressed in the future.

5.  This book is not just about science, it is about spirituality.  Although Henrietta Lacks never gave her consent to have cells taken from her, she has – in a way – managed to live on through those cells, save lives, and change medicine.  According to her family, she is an angel.  Even to scientists, she is something of a miracle because her cells could do what none others could: divide, multiply, and live forever.  Scientists – especially cancer researchers – have an unlimited supply of cells to work with in their quest for a cure for cancer.

6.  But mainly, read this book to find an answer or at least an explanation for this fact:  Henrietta’s cells have changed medicine, yet her family cannot afford health insurance. How can this be?  Is it right?

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