Staff Picks: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a step closer for the respect this medical wonder and their donor deserve.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was originally published in 2010. It is a fascinating story of the origin of the immortal HeLa cells that can be found in most laboratories around the world. These human cells were the first and only ones so easy to culture that the line is still active and widely used sixty years later. 
The cells were originally derived from a cancerous tumour at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in the 1950s. The patient was an African American woman, Henrietta Lacks. The sample was removed without her or her family's consent or knowledge. This practice is still common, material removed during procedures does not belong to the individual. Shortly after unsuccessful treatment Henrietta succumbed to cervical cancer. 

The book was written by Rebecca Skloot, a medical journalist, who first learned about the HeLa cells during her studies. She was shocked that however often the line is used and referenced, no one seemed to have known much about the donor. Although the cells have been distributed all over the world - even to space – in order to find cures for most common diseases from Polio to SARS, Henrietta’s family fights for recognition and possible financial compensation for what they see as her remains. The story recaps the social and economic effects of the Great Migration that triggered the Civil Rights Movement and, consequently, Henrietta’s family’s struggle, religious beliefs, social status, and place, and their lack of trust in the medical system and governmentThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a step closer for the respect this medical wonder and their donor deserve.

Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in a movie made based on the book and it is available on Access Video On Demand through Surrey Libraries website. 

Book: 4 out of 5 – Movie: 2 out of 5

(Submitted by Orsi)

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