Book Group: July 2015: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks discussion thread

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Aug 2015
10:02am, 15 Aug 2015
5427 posts
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I recommended this as an outstanding piece of pop science/ethics writing, which I thought was extremely accessible and explores some interesting ethical questions without losing sympathy for the position of anybody involved. It's gone down well enough with non-scientific book group members that it seems to have been a good choice.

Part of my job is training new PhD students in cancer imaging; I recommend this to all of them, and think it should probably be on a compulsory background reading list.
Aug 2015
8:30pm, 15 Aug 2015
11377 posts
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I'm really glad to have read this Badger, good shout!
Aug 2015
9:06pm, 15 Aug 2015
7483 posts
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I too am glad to have read it, though I didn't feel the two genres (science writing and biography of the Lacks family) made a smooth and seamless link. But it may have been as smooth and seamless as it could be. It was interesting to read about the history of the cells, with medical ethics panting along in the wake of rapid scientific discoveries and technological developments.

I did wonder whether, if Deborah had not died before the book came out, Rebecca Skloots would have felt able to write it exactly as she did.
Aug 2015
9:07pm, 15 Aug 2015
7484 posts
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And i could have done with a family tree.
Aug 2015
12:21pm, 27 Aug 2015
9068 posts
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agree, I did get a bit lost with all the cousins and then when they started talking about the white branch of the family I was totally confused about where they came in.

I was fascinated by the story and as it turns out one of my friends works in this field, she had always mentioned that her work was confidential so I had never really pushed for info but when I mentioned this book and the story behind it she was aware of it and some of her colleagues had read it as well. it did provoke a long discussion about ethics and what goes on behind closed doors.

I think I will read it again just to get a better understanding of it all, some of the science did go over my head a bit.
Aug 2015
2:22pm, 27 Aug 2015
7604 posts
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It's clear that it went right over the heads of some of the Lacks family
Oct 2015
6:40pm, 15 Oct 2015
6921 posts
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I thought I had posted on this thread but clearly I had not. I really enjoyed this book and I didn't think I would. I read it after 'The lost child of Philomena Lee' which was the Martin Sixsmith book about his search for Anthony Lee, the 'lost child' of the title. I had loved the film and heard both Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith speak movingly and interestingly about the story. The book was a total let-down. I felt that Sixsmith had filled in lots of gaps in the story which he did not have the right to do, and that the whole thing was just his 'imagining' of Anthony's life. I had wanted to read about the journey that he and Philomena made, and there was very little of that.

So coming to this book which was a similar genre (journalist tries to reconstruct events of the past when the main actor is dead) I was struck by how much more successfully Rebecca Skloot had been. I was totally clear what was reported and what was conjecture, and was carried along by the real-life story in a way that I was not by Philomena. It also made me think about what belongs to whom, and about rights etc.

I could also have done with a family tree, though.

Thanks Badger :)

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I recommended this as an outstanding piece of pop science/ethics writing, which I thought was extrem...

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