NACCHO Book Club — The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Jun 14, 2020 | Kamya Raja

Each month, NACCHO will bring you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. We hope to provide a well-rounded reading list that you will find enjoyable as well as informative.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes readers through the life and later influences of African American woman and cervical cancer patient, Henrietta Lacks. Unbeknownst to her or her family, Henrietta’s cancer cells are used for research that ultimately lead to the discovery of the first immortal human cell line, HeLA, short for Henrietta Lacks. Not only were her cells used without her or her family’s consent, but it leads to others profiting from her cells.

The process unveils a medical system fraught with medical rights violations, exploitation, and blatant racism that plagued medical practices of the 1950s. Furthermore, Lacks’ family continues to be taken advantage of by lawyers and journalists claiming to help them.

One of the most important takeaways from learning about Henrietta’s and her family’s story is recognizing that theirs is one among countless other African Americans and other minority demographics who have been exploited by the U.S. medical system. As our country continues to wake up amidst our current reckoning with the U.S.’s racist history, it is up to each industry to look within ourselves, identify our own implicit biases, and chart a path forward to creating a more just and equitable society.


About Kamya Raja

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