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Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Chapters 25-27

young adult cancer book club

Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club!  We are reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot! Catch up on Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-6, Chapters 7-9Chapters 10-12, Chapters 13-15, Chapters 16-18, Chapters 19-21, and Chapters 22-24 .

Let’s get started!

Chapter 25.  “Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?”  1976-1988.

This chapter brings us deep into the debate of body tissue ownership…who owns tissues removed from a person, what sort of consent is needed, and to whom do the profits of any scientific discoveries go?  A researcher argued, “there were numerous parties with legitimate property interests in any cultured cells, including the scientist who grew them, the financers of any related work, and the “donors” of the original samples.  Without any one of those contributions, he said, the cultured cells wouldn’t exist, and neither would any money resulting from their sale.”  It seems that years later, the Supreme Court agreed and rules that “when tissues are removed from your body, with or without your consent, any claim you might have had to owning them vanishes.”  Changes still happened though.  After the ruling, researchers were now required to disclose possible financial gains related to patient tissues taken.  Informed consent continued to be an issue but regulations were slowly forming as were the regulatory bodies who would enforce them.

– Mallory C

Chapter 26.  Breach of Privacy.  1980-1985.

Informed consent (or the lack thereof) is a continued theme in this book.  This chapter adds an extra dimension to that.  At one point, Deborah receives a copy of Michael Gold’s book about the HeLa contamination issue and one scientist’s campaign to stop it.  In this book, Gold “quotes extensively from [Henrietta’s] medical records.”  Ummm, what?!  No one in the Lacks family had given permission to release those records nor had anyone in the Lacks family even seen the medical records.  At the time, it wasn’t even illegal for a journalist to publish such sensitive information.

Rebecca Skloot gets ahold of Michael Gold and asks him if he tried to contact the family and he says, “I think I wrote some letters…to be honest, the family wasn’t really my focus…I just thought they might make some interesting color for the scientific story.” Next to that, in the margin, I wrote, “gross.”

– Mallory C

Chapter 27.  The Secret of Immortality.  1984-1995.

Finally!  This is the chapter that tells us why Henrietta’s cells became one of the first immortal cell lines when scientists had been attempting to grow cells immortally for decades.  Very few cell lines have become immortal all by themselves.  At last, scientists discover concretely that “only cells that had been transformed by a virus or a genetic mutation had the potential to become immortal.”  Seriously…I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting on this since we started reading the book!

– Mallory C

Thanks for joining us for Chapters 25-27 of  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot!  Join in next Monday for Chapters 28-30.

If you’re just joining us, here are some logistics:

We will talk about several chapters each Monday until the book is done (probably about three chapters since the book has so many).  Then, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss.  Join in, in the comments every week!  At the end, we’ll have a book club discussion via video chat!  Also, there will probably be spoilers.  Read along with us!

How are you enjoying our young adult cancer book club?