Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Last week I finished my first book of the year - the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It tells the story of a black lady who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. Some of the cells from her tumor were taken (without her knowledge) and grown in a laboratory. Scientists were able to do all kinds of valuable medical research using these cells, but for a long time her family had no idea. The book is a perfect mix between scientific explanations and stories about Henrietta and her family. Science was always my least favorite subject, so I was a little worried I wouldn't enjoy the book, but I ended up loving it. I found it fascinating.
The whole time I was reading the book I was thinking how crazy it was that they didn't tell her family, but that nothing like this could happen today. However when I got to the afterword, I learned that it probably could happen today. Did you know that whenever they take a blood sample from you or you have surgery and they remove something (like say, an ovarian cyst or your appendix), they keep that stuff? And did you know they are pretty much free to do research or whatever they want with it? We sign consent forms, but let's be honest, who reads that stuff anyway? And there aren't clear laws about what those consent forms have to say, so they can be pretty vague about it all. I'm not upset about this. I mean if they can use my ovarian cyst or Roger's appendix or Corbyn's umbilical cord to learn more and make life better for us and/or our posterity, I say go for it. I was just pretty shocked to learn that my viewpoint throughout the entire book was pretty much wrong.
When I decided to read this book at the beginning of January, I checked and the Spanish Fork library had two copies. Both were checked in, so I just went down there and picked one up. I was reading the book at a good steady pace, but wasn't quite done at the end of 3 weeks when it was due. So I went to renew it and learned that apparently over those 3 weeks, it had become very popular - there were 7 holds on it! So I couldn't renew it. I decided to hurry up and finish it and pay whatever fine I needed to when I returned it. Apparently they were forgiving fines the first two weeks of February, so I didn't have to pay anything (it would have been less than $1 even if I did). I just thought it was pretty funny that I had no trouble getting it and then it suddenly became very popular - especially because it didn't just come out or anything like that.
If you are looking for something to read, I would recommend this one. (I know I always say that, but I mean it. And I would tell you if I didn't recommend something.)
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tracy said...

Thank you for the great review of this book and also for your personal thoughts on the subject.

i have long thought about reading it and will definately do it now!

Mom Lori said...

When do you ever have time to read?

You are amazing!

Rachel said...

I'm so glad you liked it!! I'm definitely not a science person either, but I really thought it was fascinating. And, I felt the exact same way when I read the afterward, who knew that our "discarded materials" (for lack of a better term) were possibly being used for research?