The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Published by: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 2nd 2010
Pages: 370 pages
Standalone Sunday is a feature created by Megan@BookSlayerReads where you select a book (not part of a series) that you loved & would recommend to others.
Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.
HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
I highlighted the last bit of the Goodreads synopsis because I read it 3 times to myself & thought…that’s a scary thought, not having control of our own cells. This book was impactful, maddening, eye opening, and educational. So many of the vaccines and medicines we have today are because of Henrietta’s stolen cells. Just recently I stumbled across a EW article announcing the HBO movie that is being produced by Oprah. Oprah will also be starring in the movie playing the part of Henrietta’s daughter. I am really looking forward to seeing this movie get the attention it deserves. Henrietta may no longer be with us but her story & sacrifice has helped us all & continues to do good in the world.