Henrietta Lacks

Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is a haunting story for the intertwined biography, science, medicine and ethics it tells about. The incredible life–immortality–of Henrietta Lack’s virulent cancer cells behind so much of modern discovery about human biology and medical treatments is simply breath taking. In contrast is the pathos of the Lacks family, so on the margin of society. What an irony in the confluence of this lowly woman’s cancer cells and the best minds in science and medicine. There’s a kind of political footnote too. Skloot tells us that the peculiar strength of Henrietta’s cervical cancer was due to her multiple infection with the HPV virus. In the recent past, the governor of Texas wanted to have all girls immunized against this virus so they’d never get cervical cancer. The immunization has to be done before a girl becomes sexually active and there was an uproar about this, as if giving a ten-year old girl an immunization would cause her to become sexually active. So a horrible cancer was chosen as preferable to the preventing it.