I hope Oprah’s HBO version of the Henrietta Lacks story does not discourage people of color from participating in clinical trials. Our nation’s institutional racism has certainly extended to health care. I’ve been in three clinical trials, and the one I’m in now, which studies the role of diet in MS, certainly has the least risk associated with it, and the most benefit. From what I hear, not many people of color are enrolled. I understand the context. But I think they are missing out.
Rebecca Skloot’s painstakingly researched, thought provoking book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is the engaging story of a young white science writer who makes it her mission to humanize the patient behind the HeLa cells, a strain of apparently immortal cancer cells with a Zelig-like existence.
The HeLa cells have made and lost researchers millions of dollars. They’ve been instrumental in countless medical triumphs, and they’ve corrupted test results the world over. They’ve been shot into outer space, and into the arms of powerless prisoners. The HeLa cells originated in a woman who was never asked if she would agree to be a tissue donor, and who would never live to see any of the spectacular consequences of that surreptitious biopsy.
Henrietta Lacks was a young mother of five who felt a painful knot in her womb, and sought free medical care in the “colored” section of Johns…
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