I highly recommend this fascinating and very readable book about the woman behind the famous HeLa cells and how her family has dealt with the knowledge that the cells taken from their mother, without her knowledge when she was dying of cervical cancer, are a commercial property in use in labs all over the world. They were proud when the discovered that their mother’s cells had saved lives but also felt confused and somewhat abused that this discovery happened by chance and that there was never any permission requested or even an expression of gratitude to the family.
The book covers such difficult topics as the history of race and medicine in America, even referring to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. And finally it’s a look at medical ethics: both informed consent and who owns human cells once they have been removed from a body.
Kathryn Brown is the Sexual Health Educator at the Indiana University Health Center.