Just Read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks



I cried. I gasped. I wanted to fight.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not just the story of Henrietta Lacks having her cells taken for cancer research without her content; but also the journey of her daughter to find out about the mother & sister she never knew.  Lacks was a beautiful woman who loved red nail polish, dancing and her 5 children.  She sought treatment from John Hopkins Hospital in the early 50s for cervical cancer and her cancer cells lead to scientific discoveries such as: a cure for polio & several STIs, gene mapping, and were even taken on space missions for research.

Lacks children grew up in poverty and couldn't even afford health insurance as adults; despite their mother's major contribution to science.  Lacks' daughter, Deborah said, "Truth be told, I can't get mad at science, because it helps people live, and I'd be a mess without it.  I'm a walking drugstore!  I can't say nuthin' bad about science, but I won't lie, I would like some health insurance, so I don't got to pay all that money every moth for drugs my mother's cells probably helped make."

I understand a lot of the ethics that have been established since this situation didn't exist in the 50s, but the part that bothers me, is how Dr Gey LIED about asking Lacks for her consent.  I personally don't believe he respected her enough to ask for permission.  This young black, uneducated woman was receiving free treatment from Hopkins and he likely felt her cells were a fair exchange. I will say that I don't think Dr Gey did it for profit though, because he wasn't a wealthy man. Also, when he was diagnosed with cancer himself, he asked for his cells to be researched on. Overall, a lot of what was done in this situation was in the name of science. That doesn't mean I think it's fair or right.

There's a lot of science talk (of course) but the author did an excellent job of making it down to earth.  Also, I appreciated the short chapters and how thoroughly researched and well-written this book is. 

Lacks' daughter, Deborah just wanted her mother to get the recognition she deserves. More than 60 years later, she finally has. :-)

I highly recommend this book.

This story reminded me that I also need to read Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.