Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

It seems silly to go over the “plot” of this biography of Mrs. Lacks again, so I will just say that this non-fiction work details how Mrs. Lacks and her family were lied to, misled, ill informed, taken advantage of and used by the medical community after her cancerous cells were found to be able to multiply indefinitely.  Without compensating, or even acknowledging, the person from whom the cells were obtained, her cells were first given away, then sold, in order to advance medical knowledge.
The book is exceptionally well written, reading at times like a medical thriller.  But at others, it serves as an introduction to medical/scientific ethics and experimentation.  Skloot writes clearly enough so that even those who failed high school biology will get the gist of the medical experience of the Lacks family.  Author Skloot becomes a major player in the book when she engages Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, as  friend, mentor and ally.  The author’s involvement in the story and with the central players may become a topic for book groups to discuss.  How “disinterested” a writer can an author be when they are so intimately involved in their investigation that they become a part of the story.  Would the book have been a bestseller if Skloot was not a part of the story?  Could it even have been written?
Book groups will find the ethics of the various medical teams to be incredulous in the face of today’s laws concerning medical privacy.  Groups may want to investigate the case of John Moore, a “modern” lapse of medical ethics, mentioned briefly in the book. 

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