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finished HeLa.

Wow. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks really got me interested and taught me so much; and it was such an easy read, for something so educational. 🙂 When I finished the book I spent some time perusing the acknowledgements and notes, just out of regret that it was over. I am relieved to say that there is some measure of peace achieved in the end. It’s not a particularly happy or upbeat story; it’s very serious stuff. But there are some hopeful moments in the final wrap-up.

I count it in author Skloot’s favor that I became involved in her life as well as those of Deborah and the other Lackses we come to know. These people matter, and I know and care about some medical issues I had not bothered about before reading this book. I think this should be required reading for everyone, in the category of Knowing About Your World. Thank you KD for prompting my interest!

7 Responses

  1. Yay – so happy you enjoyed this one! I agree that Skloot did an incredible job. She educates her readers on a significant scientific subject while including the compelling human side to the story. I never wanted to put the book down and finished it in just a few days. It never had a dry science feel to it and I learned so much. I had never heard of HeLa cells until reading this book. I had a visit with my doctor last week and mentioned this book – she of course knew of HeLa cells from med school and working as a doctor but had not read the book yet (she plans to though). I also happened to be at Memorial Hermann NW last week for a couple tests and after signing all the forms I asked the woman working there a few questions that I never would have thought of asking had it not been for this book. The woman actually had no clue what the hospital would do with a biopsy sample after they were done with it, and she said they would certainly never use tissues without consent…..yet at the end of the book it states that nothing prevented researchers for doing this in 1951 and now, in 2009, the same remains true. I find this outrageous and incomprehensible. I also am appalled that John Hopkins still has not done anything to honor and acknowledge Henrietta Lacks. I know they did begin an attempt at such a thing (as mentioned in the book) but I think they need to re-visit this and do right by the Lacks family. Its also outrageous the family has never received one penny of compensation when biotech companies bring in huge profits from advances made using her cells (not to mention the vaccines that were created and all the other numerous ways in which her cells were used). I can only hope this book may galvanize some change in those directions…acknowledgement, honor, and compensation. I think this book should be required reading as well. I am really looking fwd to discussing it in book club next month! If you want to join us for the discussion let me know – would be great to have you there.

    • Huh, book club, you say? Let me know the date. Sounds like we’re right on the same page! It’s a sad story but I’m glad we were (at least a little) uplifted at the end of it. I’m also glad you found a way to apply it in your experience in the medical machine! Although I wouldn’t be so sure the person you interacted with would know what they’d do with a biopsy… it’s a scary world.

      • You know… I think it’s not so shocking that medical folks aren’t aware of the human-interest, controversial/ethical side of this. It’s in the industry’s best interests not to emphasize these issues, and as Skloot tells it, the still fairly standardized approach is not to talk about it. The degree to which they care to get informed consent from patients still varies quite a bit, according to her research. Considering this, I’m not surprised they weren’t ready to tell you much.

  2. Book club is Tues Nov 2 at Jessie’s house in the Heights (on Lawrence near 13th). We could ride bikes there! 🙂 Let me know – you’d be welcome.
    It IS a sad story, but not only am I thankful to know about the Lacks’ story but I also felt such gratitude to know that a person like Rebecca Skloot existed. I don’t think many authors could do what she did – be so persistent in the beginning, and then pick things up after Deborah had flipped or she herself had messed up, and keep trying to develop a trusting relationship with not only Deborah but so many other family members. Taking the time to explain what really happened to their mother’s cells….all that was NOT an easy task and I am very impressed with her perseverance and devotion to doing all she could to make sure the story was able to be told in its entirety (via incorporating all the richness that the family could contribute to it).
    And I hear you re: its in the industry’s best interest to NOT emphasize the bioethics associated with informed consent and tissue samples. Its depressing, but it sure played out for me last week when I inquired about it.

    I have another book I just finished this weekend that you should check out….City of Thieves by David Benioff. Have you heard of it? A novel set in Leningrad in WWII….its based off his grandfather’s life. A good blend of tragedy and comedy…at times it was horrific, at times it made me laugh out loud. And I learned a lot about living conditions in Russia at this time. Sure I knew it must have been awful, but this book made it real for me. And the story itself is incredible. I can only hope there will be a sequel based off his grandmother’s life!

  3. […] you get selected). I have requested to give away (in this order) copies of either The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Ender’s Game, or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I actually submitted a number of titles […]

  4. […] Lacks by Rebecca Skloot before I really began blogging. (I made a few posts on it early on: here, here, and here, but none qualify as a review.) So I can only say, looking back, that as with On a […]

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