Sitting on my shelf is a well-worn copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a book I have lent and shipped to friends all over the country. This was a required read for one of the undergraduate classes I was taking while working towards my ethics and cultural studies minors, but to this day, it is still one of the books I recommend to fellow bookworms the most.
This book vacillates between telling the story of Henrietta Lacks, and narrating the adventure of Rebecca Skloot as she pursues research about this woman’s life that had an extraordinary impact on modern medicine as we know it today.
After suffering an aggressive bout with cervical cancer, Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman died and was buried in an unmarked grave in 1951. Though Henrietta died, her cancer cells became the first immortal cell-line, known as HeLa. This book details the life of Henrietta, the woman behind the cells that have impacted modern medicine as we know it – shaping cancer research, vaccines and drugs, viruses, environmental stress, vitamin deficiencies, and even the polio vaccine.
It spotlights the history of unethical medical practices by telling the story of Henrietta, a woman who, like many other African American women, was afflicted by deeply racist practices by one of the best hospitals in the country. The book details the ethical and moral controversy of profiting from the tissue of a woman who proceeded to grow sicker and sicker in the name of research, her family never seeing a dime from the billion-dollar industry that has profited from the existence of rapidly regenerating cells.
Abuse, ethical and moral dilemma, black history, and the pursuit for meaning characterize the pages of this book, as this book details the life of the woman whose cells have affected modern medicine as we know it. For a raw and historical look at the tipping point of western medicine, you cannot miss this read. This informative book will make you angry, it will make you sad, and it will make you incredibly grateful – what better to do than read a book that makes you feel, about a person whose life has unknowingly shaped yours.