Immortal and immortality are words that catch a reader's attention, and these words caught my attention in a book review published yesterday in our local newspaper. I am writing this post today because I think the book reviewed focuses on topics that relate in a peripheral manner to the study of genealogy. In today's world where scientists study hereditary diseases, research various forms of gene therapy, and family historians use DNA to establish family lineage, a story such as this one should not go unnoticed.
The book, entitled "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," is the result of ten years of research completed by its author, a science journalist named Rebecca Skloot. Published by Crown Publishers, the book chronicles the story of a young mother of five, Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in the early 1950's. Before the cervical tumor that would later kill Henrietta was treated with radium, a doctor at Johns Hopkins charity hospital where Henrietta was a patient, removed two small patches from the tumor. Without Henrietta's knowledge, the cells were turned over to researchers. In her book, Rebecca Skloot tells why Henrietta's tumor cells, known as HeLa in the medical community, have been called "the most famous human cells on earth."
I encourage you to read the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who lay buried in an unmarked grave in Virginia until 2009. Her story is a true one that includes an intimate look at the 1950's medical culture and focuses, in part, on medical ethics and individual rights of those who participate in medical research. More about the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks can be read here and here.