Monday, May 20, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

What if you discovered a bit of your long-deceased mother was still growing in a lab? What if it was really that every single scientific lab in the world has been running complex medical experiments on growing, living pieces of your long-deceased mother and you never knew or received compensation?

That's where the core of this story begins: as the Lacks family learns that the same cervical cancer cells which killed Henrietta Lacks in 1951 are still growing and multiplying, providing 60 years of scientists with an endless supply of human cells on which to run experiments.

It's a deep subject with a steep ethical slope - but it's handled deftly and warmly by the author. She personalizes the story, weaves several historical and contemporary storylines together, and explains the complex science in an easily digestible manner. She also inadvertently became part of the story as her friendship with daughter Deborah Lacks spanned a decade of research, genealogy, and oral history.

This book makes you think, and the various moral, ethical, and medical opinions are presented in a nicely balanced manner. I still don't know what I think about a lot of it, and that's okay - if it was simple, the scientific community probably would have figured it out decades ago.

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