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Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

categories: Book, Faith, Science, Journalism, Grace, True Story

 Fascinating Thought Provoking Read

Imagine a poor black female tobacco farmer. You are unknown and you visit the doctor. Yet, your genetic cells will be taken from you without your consent. You are now called HeLa. Your cells are now being sold for billions of dollars and have become an important tool for medicine; vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. However, you can't pay for medical insurance and your family has questions as to how this could happen. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot tells a spellbinding story of the science, unethical conduct, and healing.

When our local book club had chosen this book, I thought this would be a factual tale of the unethical treatment of the experimentation on African Americans, during the 1950's. I had no idea the scale of mistreatment, unscrupulous behavior, and magnitude of the story of Henrietta Lacks. I felt angry and at the same time began to question are the ethics in the scientific/medical field better or just more stealthy? Rebecca Skloot gives the reader the true story of Henrietta; who she was, what she was like, and the discoveries of her youngest daughter Deborah. Rebecca Skloot is honest and gives the reader a clear understanding in this novel. I also was touched with how the author does not blame or come across judgmental as she writes about the scientific community and the uneducated Lacks family.

My favorite quote was when Deborah thanked Lurz for the information he states, "When he asked if she was okay, her eyes welled with tears and she said, "Like I'm always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different." This begs the question: how can we discuss those negative, hateful discoveries of the past? The journey of Deborah is one of strength and moving forward. Yet, one must reconcile with the past and treat others with dignity and humanism. Do we adhere to that today? Furthermore, one can almost feel the transformation of the author and Deborah as the novel develops. This brings out an intimacy that Rebecca Skloot has developed with Deborah and the novel.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is absolutely fascinating and brings much to ponder. For example, who benefited most in this novel? Are we better today or are we like the Lacks family? We ended our book club discussion with the question, should the family have been compensated when the tissue was removed legally (at the time) while Henrietta was being treated at a free clinic? I highly recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This novel brings much to the discussion at any book gathering and for a personal private read. [by Ginger Dawn Harman]

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