What is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks about?
The creation of HeLa cell line occurred in in 1951, the year their donor, Henrietta Lacks, died of cervical cancer. Taken at John Hopkins University, one of the only hospitals in the region which would serve black individuals. Almost immediately, the cells were reproduced and sent to many institutions across the United States and the world, places which might have refused treatment to Henrietta, herself.
Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal cell line”, the first cells to be grown and reproduced on a mass scale in a lab. This was just the first momentous scientific discovery they are part of. The cells helped developments on the Polio Vaccine, cancer treatment, and blood disorders. They have been included in over 70,000 publications and were involved with three Nobel Prizes
The darker side of this history is that further specimens from her husband and children were used without informed consent
Is this case unique?:
The experimentation on POC without full or in the case of Henrietta Lacks any, disclosure is not unique. Early birth control studies done on Puerto Rican woman and the Tuskegee Syphilis study are two other circumstances of lack of disclosure by the medical community
Why is this important?:
As mentioned in the book, BIPOC still have less access to adequate medical treatment, including mental health, regardless of income
Arthur Lakes Library owns two copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.