In 1951, a poor black woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks died of cancer. Her doctor took some samples (without her permission) of her cancer cells and her cervical tissue that later made history. These cells became the first to regenerate in a laboratory. They became immortal, because they kept on growing. This was important because most cells won’t do that, and having the cells for research provided important scientific breakthroughs like the polio vaccine and the available of chemotherapy in fighting cancer. In fact, most research done today uses the offspring of these cells – which are called HeLa.
Skloot’s work of non-fiction is exemplary. She tells a very human side of this story. In presenting Henrietta Lacks and her family to readers, we can start to understand the ethical dilemma posed by the scientific and commercial value of human cells. Should individuals have a say in what happens to tissue that is removed in a doctor’s office? Do medical companies have an obligation to share in the profits of cells that are marketable? Rebecca Skloot does a wonderful job of exploring all these issues and more.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating story that you won’t want to put down. It draws you in from the very first page, and keeps you all the way to the end.
5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010
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