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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

I generally don't read that many nonfiction books (just look at my nonfiction vs. fiction count on my Goodreads shelf — at this moment it stands at around 60 vs. 424), so when I do read them I hope they would be good. This one really is. It's an eye-opening, thought-provoking and discussion-worthy book about cell samples taken without consent from an African-American woman who died of cancer decades ago, cells that went on to to be used in numerous medical research to this day. The HeLa cells, short for Henrietta Lacks from whom they were taken, were sold for profit while the Lacks family never got a share and had no idea about the impacts that Henrietta's cells made on major medical advances.

The issue of medical ethics hits rather close to home for me due to something that occurred a few years ago when Indonesia was hit by the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus. A bit of a controversy brew when our then-health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, refused to allow virus samples from Indonesian patients to be shared to international drug companies without first receiving assurances that vaccines derived from those samples would be accessible and not sold back to developing countries like ours for commercial gain (see Reuters). Back then some called the minister paranoid and xenophobic, but after reading about HeLa, I'm inclined to think that maybe not all her fears were unfounded.