It beggars belief to learn that once your cells leave your body, you are considered to have voluntarily given them up and they no longer belong to you. This is as true to day as it was in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks, a poor young Afro-American woman was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive form of cancer.
A biopsy was taken of these cells without her knowledge or consent. At this time, human tissue culture was in its infancy and researchers struggled to keep the cells alive. Yet, they found that Henrietta's cells not only lived, but thrived and multiplied and seemed nigh impossible to kill. Soon, these cells, named 'HeLa' were being used in medical research experiments worldwide, and became big business.
In this book, Rebecca Skloot aims to tell the personal story of Henrietta, her life of poverty, her illness and death, and the way her death has contributed to huge advances in science. She talks to the people who knew Henrietta, and to her family who were initially hostile and suspicious of her motives. Despite the fortunes that Henrietta's cells made for those who controlled them, her family never received a penny and remained unable to afford healthcare. The story exposes the racism and hypocrisy of the medical industry of that time. Despite being a science book, it is very accessible and easy to understand and reads more like a fiction novel. It is a book that enrages and inspires, and I recommend it to all.