Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks- Book review

Just finished reading the book, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; after reading the Book – ‘the Help’, I was engulfed into reading ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. There was a reference of this book in ‘The Help’ and it is a classic that I had not read this far so it was easy pick. It seems like the past few months of book reading have been an extended ‘Black History Month’ of sorts and the more I read, the more I realize there is so much more to learn, analyze and understand.

The book, the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks is a book about the person behind the famous ‘HeLa’ cells that have the capability to multiply indefinitely and because of which they have contributed tremendously to scientific research and led to the discovery of Polio Vaccine, helped in gene research and develop some drugs to help fight cancer and Parkinson’s along with help in many other researches, diagnosis and treatments. These cells were blown with nuclear bombs and travelled to space among other experiments and they were taken without the knowledge of the patient, Henrietta Lacks and her family didn’t know about the research that was being done on her cells after her death or the scientific contributions it has made. For the longest time the name associated with HeLa cells was Helen Lane and not Henrietta Lacks.

This book is also about a daughter’s journey to discovering her own mother through the life that she must have lived and the cancerous cells that are still living and contributing to science. About convincing her own self along with the rest of the family that it is okay to learn more about the cells and not shun the knowledge for the fear of hurt it might cause.

Besides all that, this book is about the constant debate between science and ethics, the rights of the people, the wrong that was done in the past and still continues to quite an extent, the discriminating laws for donors and the research labs; the right to privacy for your own DNA, the right to choose how your own cells can be used for commercial use and to generate patents that can later be denied to other based on exorbitant test costs.

This book is a must read for all, it is good to be aware of the sacrifices that others have made knowingly or unknowingly to generate the medical cures that we now take for granted. And also we must know that we all are part of that research which is conducted on our voluntarily given samples at each doctor’s visit. We all our contributing to a cell data bank that helps scientific discovery and cures people of deadly diseases. I am proud of it and I am a donor… but this book is making me think about my decision to be donor, how my DNA might affect the privacy of all those whom I am passing on this DNA to. Will my future generation be at a disadvantage based on the genes that some researchers can decipher and I am unaware of? Am I a subject for a research that will generate a patent and will be used to discriminate based on economic status and if yes, why don’t I have a say in it…

If you are not scientifically inclined, the technical portions and terminology of the book might deter you from finishing it to the end but my suggestion is to stick to it, it is so worth it. It will make you think for a long time and will generate some very healthy discussions and most of all make you more aware and informed about all the future decision you make.

No comments:

Post a Comment