Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Club Update

My book club continues to choose interesting and challenging books, which has been fantastic. I’m loving being a part of a group that encourages me to read things I might not otherwise choose. We recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Sixtyfive Roses by Heather S. Cariou. Both were good reads and I definitely wouldn’t have picked up Sixtyfive Roses without the club. It was thought-provoking and heartbreaking to learn more about living with cystic fibrosis – especially in the 50s and 60s.
Our current pick is one that I suggested – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I read about it in O Magazine ages ago and then a friend had raved about it. I bought it one day when I needed an extra book to get the free shipping option on my Chapters order and it had been sitting on my shelf ever since. But recently it seemed to be calling to me – an odd sentiment since I’ve never really thought about a book doing that. But as I’ve been reading, I can’t help but wonder if Henrietta was thinking it had taken me far too long to get to her book and gave me a little bit of a psychic nudge.
Whether she did or not, I’m so glad I picked up this book. The story is fascinating – a poor, black woman goes into the hospital to have her cancer treated. Doctors scrape off some of the cells from her tumor and send them off to a lab where they go on to be the first cells in history to reproduce on their own. And they’ve continued to reproduce ever since – aiding in the research for the polio vaccine, cancer treatments and countless other medical breakthroughs.
But she never gave her permission for this. Nor did her family. In fact, they had no idea that her cells had been used until years after her death. And they had little understanding of the complicated medical issues that surrounded their use. They did understand, however, that something had been taken without their permission and that that something had been profitable. While they could barely afford insurance, their mother’s cells were being sold for hundreds of dollars a vial.
It seems cut and dried, but it really isn’t. The researcher who initially discovered the cells gave them away for free in the name of medical research and at the time that sort of usage of ‘medical waste’ was common and accepted. The author does an amazing job of looking at the issue from all sides and I am looking so forward to picking up the book again tonight to learn even more about how this story will unfold. I’m so glad that I took the time to read this one and I can’t wait to discuss it with my group in June.
Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? What did you think?

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