Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a poor black woman dies of cervical cancer in 1951, her cancerous cells live on. But what happens when her biological material generates billions of dollars for the drug and pharmaceutical industry, leaving her dirt poor descendants in the lurch?

Yeah, I know I wrote that like the teaser for one of my mysteries but the only mystery here is how people who have profited from the diseased cells that killed a woman can sleep at night while her kids and grand kids don't have two nickels to rub together.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is really two stories. One of Henrietta Lacks and her cancer cells that lived decades beyond her years, and the other of Rebecca Skloot and the surviving members of the Lacks family.

Henrietta Lacks married her counsin, contracted multiple STD's due to his philandering ways, and died of misdiagnosed cervical cancer by the time she was 30. However, the cancer that killed her survives today in the form of HeLa cells, which have been taken to the moon, exposed to every manner of radiation and illness, and all sorts of other experiments.

While other people are raking in money due to the HeLa research, the surviving Lacks family doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, bringing me to the real meat of the book: The pharmaceutical industry is a bunch of dickbags. Imagine having something removed that generated billions of dollars of revenue for people you've never met and still needing to watch your budget so you can pay your mortage. Fair? Shit no, but that's the way it is, apparently. It also seems illogical that you can patent things you didn't create but again, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an eye-opening look at someone most of us have never heard of but probably owe some sort of debt to. Also, it drags the big money pharma companies out in the sun. Sadly, they do not burst into flames like the vampires they are. Four out of five stars. I'm going to go read something happy now.

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