The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot
The internationally bestselling story of a young woman whose death in 1951 changed medical science for ever . . .Tweet
Gloucester Book Club read this one! Fascinating true story of Henrietta's cervical cancer diagnosis, and how cells taken from her operation have lead to medical breakthroughs. Henrietta's cells continue to grow and expand in the petri dish and are shared with medical research labs world-wide. However, despite the use of her cells, Henrietta's family did not received any recognition for what she had contributed to medical science, until Rebecca Skloot decided to tell her story.
This is a great book for discussion. around the ethics of taking people's cells without their permission to use in research. Some of our members thoroughly recommend it, whilst others found the subject matter difficult and didn't finish the book. Interestingly it was the female members of our group who found it a fascinating read!
Nearly all the members finished this book and all but two members enjoyed the book.The people who didn't enjoy the book as much felt that the backwards and forwards in time nature of the book was a bit confusing and distracted them from the story. Other members of the group enjoyed the backwards and forwards in time way of writing and felt that it made the book flow very well.
We all liked that the author didn't try to sensationalise the story in order to make more money, she just wrote the story as plainly and simply as possible in order to avoid harm to Henrietta's family. We would have liked a little more science in the book as an explanation to some elements but this could be because we are a hospital based bookclub. We all enjoyed reading about how medical consent has changed over the years, again this could be because we are a medically orientated book club so many of us deal with consent and patients on a day-to-day basis. We went on to discuss informed consent, anonymity, the financial rewards to both patients and to pharmaceutical companies with regards using human tissue to test drugs etc. We thought that the medical element was brought out a lot in this book, maybe this is because they have to pay for medical treatment in America whereas we in the UK have it mostly provided for free.
We also discussed the racial element of the book with regards it not being all that long ago when Henrietta and her family were having to use different entrances and water fountains in public. The use of different terms to describe people was also discussed in relation to political correctness. We thought that in the past using a descriptor to say that a person was a different colour was meant to segregate people into different classes, now it is used in the same way you would say that someone wears glasses, purely to identify them so you know you're talking about the same person.
Overall we felt that this book was mostly about Deborah, Henrietta's daughter rather than about Henrietta as she was the living person we were following through all the discoveries. We enjoyed watching her grow and learn so much simple through her own hard work and her need to learn about her mother. We all came away shocked at how little we as people linked to medicine know about Henrietta Lacks.
Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10.