Jen White (jenmwhite) wrote,
Jen White

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Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


I've just finished reading The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It is the story of a young African American woman who passed away in 1951 from a very aggressive form of cancer, but not before a sample of her cancerous cells was taken without her knowledge or permission. These cells, known as HeLa cells, proved to be the first human cells to survive in the laboratory. So strong were they that they have been used in thousands of laboratories since then, becoming the basis for many of the incredible medical breakthroughs we are now familiar with. The cells are so potent that great care must be taken in laboratories that they do not contaminate other cell cultures. Today they remain one of the most common cell cultures in laboratories world wide. In the meantime, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty, only learning what had happened to Henrietta's cells much later. The writer, Rebecca Skloot, focuses on Henrietta's family, in particular her daughter Deborah, who was one year old when her mother passed away, and their struggle to come to terms with what had been done. It is a fascinating book that provokes thought around cloning and immortality, and asks who owns our bodies and who should profit from them? Here's a question. Can the HeLa cells, after having flourished so vigorously over the last 60 years, still be considered human? Or have they become another species? I also admire the apparent care and consideration the author invested in both the writing of the book and in her relationship with the family. As a strange footnote, Hela also happens to be the name of a Marvel Comics character, the Asgardian goddess of death, possessing superhuman strength, speed, stamina, agility and durability. Highly recommended.


Tags: book review, hela, henrietta lacks

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