Monday, February 09, 2015

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Are you an empathic person who tries to put herself in someone else's shoes and really understand them? Are you baffled by people who won't vaccinate their children because they don't trust the government or the pharmecuetical companies to be working in the best interests of the public? Would you like a little insight into that level of distrust? I like to try to understand people who seem completely wrong to me.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks describes how an African American tobacco farmer who went to the doctor for cancer treatment had her cells used in medical research for decades without her family knowing. Author Rebecca Skloot spent years researching how the global research community used "HeLa" cells, and how Lacks' family was impacted (or not). Lacks herself died young from a strain of cancer that was so aggressive that it served as the perfect lab sample because it was almost impossible to kill it. Her cells were critical in the development of the polio vaccine and countless other medical breakthroughs. In the meantime, her descendents struggled financially and, ironically, went without health coverage for decades. Skloot's book includes interviews with the Lacks family that took place after they learned of Henrietta's eternal place in medical history.

No, this book doesn't comment on current ideas about government medical guidelines or requirements. I simply offer it as a piece of evidence for the distrust that many feel towards the medical establishment and how it can treat individuals. It's also just a good story. Right now the Kindle version of this book is just $1.99 on Amazon.com. I read it when it came out in 2010 and plan to read it again.

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