A personal view incorporating the insights of a UK-based book group
Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old African American who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Her biopsied cancer cells were taken without her permission, propagated seemingly forever after and shared by research laboratories across the world. The resulting immortal HeLa cell line is an integral, multimillion-dollar constituent of the scientific and medical research industry from which Henrietta's family has failed to materially benefit. Her story is rooted in the institutionalised racism of the 1950s and 60s, unthinkable today. Skloot personalises the cell line that so many of us are familiar with, using gritty and sometimes depressing insights into the life of the real person behind it.
I suggested that my book group, based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, read Skloot's book late in 2011. We are an eclectic mix of high-achieving women with a rough balance of arts and science/medicine backgrounds. Our system, by which the member hosting the book club for a given month, chooses the book in advance, ensures endless variety. Meetings can become quite lively as we thrash out often polarised views
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