In the 1950's a black woman named Henrietta Lacks arrived at John Hopkins Hospital suffering from cervical cancer. Without her knowledge doctors took a sample of her cells which ended up becoming the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture. Though Henrietta has been dead for decades, her cells still live today in laboratories around the world.
The cells, known as HeLa, have been instrumental in developing medicine and vaccines, have led to in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping, and have even been sent up into space. HeLa cells have created a billion dollar industry, and yet Henrietta's family still cannot afford their own health insurance and drug coverage. They did not learn about Henrietta's cells until more than twenty years after her death when their own cells were taken without informed consent and used in research.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the complete story of Henrietta's life, her illness, her cells and the industry they have created. It took Rebecca Skloot a decade to uncover the story, as she worked to uncover who Henrietta was and why scientists were so interested in her cells.
This is an incredible story. It deals with poverty, racism, illness, greed, science, and spirituality. It will open your eyes to secrecy within the medical industry and how scientific advancement can harm so many. It is heartbreaking to see how work that has done so much good for everyone around the world has hurt one family so much.
Skloot does an excellent job of making the story accessible. Even though there is a lot of science, it is explained in a way that everyone can understand. Her passion to uncover the story and give a name and voice to the woman behind HeLa shines through the entire book.
I highly recommend this book. It will raise questions in the readers mind as to what we really know about science and its role in our lives, the use and misuse of medical authority, and who really owns our bodies.