13 January 2011
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The embarrassingly slow reading continues with my finally finishing this book. I thought it was good, even if I'm not going to rave about it like some people do. The best part of the book were the many interesting questions raised, and it told its story well. It would be a good choice for a book group.
There were a few other things I came away with. While I didn't really relate to the reaction of the family concerning the cells, I thought that reaction was entirely reasonable. What is unfortunate is that we have created a society where it was reasonable for them to react that way. African Americans and other minorities have been treated terribly by the medical establishment and it would be hard to believe HeLa wasn't part of that.
I didn't necessarily think the family, because their mother's cells were used so extensively for research, had a greater right to health insurance than anyone else. Instead, I think they and everyone else in this country has an equal right to health insurance because we're all in this together. All our bits and pieces can be used to further medicine. It's not right for one of the Lacks children to owe $125,000 in medical bills after a bypass surgery, but it's not more wrong for him than for anyone else. Instead of making the argument that they need health insurance, I thought a clearer argument could have been made in favor of medical care being guaranteed to everyone.
But this book wasn't really about everyone else, nor was it supposed to be. It's about the Lacks family and you can't come away without feeling frustration and admiration when you finish.