Would cells be used to create deadly bacteria or to build a biological bomb? How would I ever know? -- Jeanette Johnson
by Jeanette Johnson
Did Henrietta Lacks give or receive? Why is her life immortal? These questions and more came up when my book group read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.
Lacks (1920-1951) was not asked for permission when her cells were harvested for medical research. Her husband was asked, but he refused.
Lacks had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in January 1951. When she died the following October, her family was unaware that her cells - called HeLa, for the first two letters of her first and last names - had been bought and sold for research. After Lacks died, the cells became immortal, multiplying over and over. When family members received requests to donate blood samples, the story began to unfold.
Even today, according to Skloot, cells are taken from patients for research without their knowledge or permission.
The women in our book group discussion who support research appreciated that cells could be used in order to discover ways to treat disease. A question was raised about people who have a disease and are charged for the treatment that "free" cells helped develop. If I donate cells, should I be informed? Should I be paid? Should I receive a discount on my hospital bill?
Those who had concerns about research raised questions about what types of research would be done. Would cells be used to create deadly bacteria or to build a biological bomb? How would I ever know?
Personally, I like to think that Lacks would have given consent and told her family. She may have found comfort in that. Knowing that her husband had refused, I think about how he may have been listened to instead of her anyway.
This is one of those books that I am glad to have read.
Jeanette Johnson lives in Burnsville.
BookShelf: Jeanette Johnson recommends these books by women authors with a focus on giving and
receiving. The Longings of Women by Marge Piercy
Amelia Earhart's Daughters: The Wild and Glorious Story of American Women Aviators from World War II to the Dawn of the Space Age by Leslie Haynsworth
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Lottery by Patricia Wood
What's on your bookshelf? Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of five related books by women authors. firstname.lastname@example.org