The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks.jpg

Like many people, I never knew Henrietta Lacks existed before I read this book. The story is incredible; indicative of both institutionalized racism, lack of medical ethics as well as the ups and downs of human nature; that have existed to varying degrees in the past and present.

The author accounts her research into the life, death and legacy of Henrietta Lacks; a woman who’s cancer cells were taken from her without her permission. Those cells are still regenerating almost 70 years later; they’ve been used in creating the polio vaccine and dozens of other medical breakthroughs. Yet her descendants live in poverty; they’ve never benefited from any of the money made by companies from research using Henrietta’s cells. To this end, one question remained in the back of my mind as I listened; is Rebecca Skloot just another person taking advantage of the Lacks family?

The author mentions starting a college fund for Lacks’ descendants; yet it doesn’t mention how much of the book’s proceeds (if any) go it. It also doesn’t mention how to donate to this cause. Perhaps that’s why, when I googled to find out about the charity, I found various articles on controversies surrounding the foundation created, as well as how profits from a subsequent movie (with Opra as the star) were distributed. I wish more were done to address this in the book.

That being said, the narrative was well written by the author and well read by the voice actor. I highly recommend.