The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: reviews and more
Among the promising books out this month -- Tuesday, in fact -- is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," which examines the extraordinary -- and controversial -- scientific contribution made by a young black woman from Baltimore County's Turners Station community more than a half-century ago. While Lacks was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins, a researcher was able to keep some of her cells alive outside her body -- a remarkable breakthrough for medical research.
Author Rebecca Skloot notes in this excerpt that the "HeLa cells," spread around the world, helped to develop the polio vaccine and forge advances in such areas as chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization. Yet Lacks' role was not acknowledged for years, and her family reaped no financial gain, leaving them understandably bitter. (Here's a 1997 Baltimore Sun story about the issue. and a piece Skloot wrote in 2000 for Johns Hopkins magazine.) Excerpts from some reviews:
Washington Post -- The story raises questions about bioethics and leaves a reader wondering who should benefit from scientific research and how it should be conducted. In the words of Lacks's youngest daughter, Deborah: "If our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can't afford to see no doctors?"
The Boston Globe -- Though the Lackses do not initially welcome her advances Skloot’s persistence pays off as it is her presentation of the family and their perspective that lifts this book above science and turns it into an inspiring story, full of poignancy and humanity.
St. Petersburg Times -- Whether those uncountable HeLa cells are a miracle or a violation, Skloot tells their fascinating story at last with skill, insight and compassion.