Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Immortal Life of What!?

The second book that I chose from this list is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". The story intrigued me and it was available from my local library for digital checkout on my Kindle. I'm about halfway through the story and I've had an admittedly difficult time getting through it and thought I would share some of my initial thoughts here.
I thought that if I did some research on HeLa cells and how they have helped advance medicine that I would feel more attached to the story. HeLa cells are pretty incredible and have helped scientists test vaccines for diseases like Polio, AIDS and cancer. They were also the first cells to be cloned, used to test the effects of radiation and used in gene mapping efforts.
While all of those things have been great for the field of medicine - the one thing this story really brought to the forefront of my attention is how different the field of medicine (seemingly) is today versus in the 1950's. There was no informed consent and really no laws at all about who owns tissues or cells once removed from a person. It kind of makes you curious about every time you've walked into a doctor's office and what they have the ability to do, without your knowledge.
I wanted to be more surprised at the lack of involvement in terms of Henrietta's family throughout this whole process, but I haven't been. Even Henrietta herself didn't let her family know she was sick until she absolutely couldn't hide it anymore. Henrietta was a poor, black Southerner living through a time in American history where she was considered inferior. Neither her nor her family were very educated so I'm not sure that had they even been involved from the beginning, that they would have understood the implications of what the doctors were doing.
The internet is a glorious thing and simply typing in "Hela cells" into a search bar results in more hits than I could ever imagine looking through. I was curious how prevalent these cells were in the news today and I couldn't believe how many times "Hela cells" were mentioned in medical news just in this past week. I also came across this article from the Huffington Post last year about a new agreement between the NIH and the Lacks family. It made me happy to see that after so many years of neglect, that there was an attempt being made to do some sort of right by this family.
Unfortunately, poking around the internet has not made me feel any more attached to this story, nor has it increased my compassion towards the Lacks family. Hopefully, as I make it through the second half of this story my perspective will change. I'll have my full review and rating up soon!

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