Sunday, June 28, 2015

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

Non-fiction. This one is a must read! I read it for the March 2015 meeting of my library's non-fiction book club. It was a perfect fit for a book club, there was much to discuss, we all enjoyed it, and we have kept bringing it up in our meetings and when we see each other outside of book club. The college where I teach originally selected this for a campus-wide read in 2013-2014, but I was so busy in my first year as full-time that I put off reading it. As I told the book club, sometimes I feel like we do not read certain books until it is the right time for us, for some other reason than logic can explain, and I think if I had read it then, back in 2013, it would not have been the right time. When we read this for book club in 2015 I was ready, and it is an amazing and appalling story.

Medical science and ethics are a fuzzy area, as this book proves, especially back when they took her cells without her knowledge the 1950s. Most people who took any biology classes at all have heard of HeLa cells, the basis for cell research in the US and around the world, but most (like me) do not know they were named after a person He(nrietta) La(cks). Most people (like me) also probably do not know that the Hippocratic oath is a sort of suggestion and is not held up as law, or that its actual wording is not really followed at all. Try looking it up, I did, fascinating stuff. Most people (like me) probably do not know that pieces of their genetic material could be in use, right now, for experiments around the globe or are being kept in freezers, because when we agree to have pieces of us removed during surgery they are medical waste, garbage, and therefore we threw them away and anybody has a right to grab them and use them.

If you are even remotely interested in medical ethics, how modern medicine and the study of genetics is completely in-debt to this woman, and/or have ever wondered "what happened to my appendix when they took it out?" then this book is for you. I am not a scientist, a doctor, or involved in the medical industry and I found the book highly readable and compelling. It is much more fascinating than the book description on the jacket, I cannot recommend it enough!

And so it goes...

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