The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I am in a non fiction phase and took out The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks after seeing good reviews of it everywhere. Mr TCM got slightly disturbed that I kept sighing through the book. It has a lot of ‘poor me’. The author really stretched out the ‘poor me’ stuff, detailing the process in writing this book. How difficult it was to talk to the family, where she traveled, how she was shut out, how she was welcomed, then not welcomed and welcomed again.

The science is a little thin – I would like it in more detail. I don’t know about HeLa cells. I want to know how it is used in the various areas of medicine. The discussions about medical research ethics and invasion of privacy came like an after thought. She talked about the circumstance around the family of Henrietta Lacks. Yes, they were poor, black, uneducated, and inbred but that alone is not interesting. In fact, I think the writer makes them a little unsympathetic. They keep repeating the tale of exploitation – how big cell factories made money off HeLa cells while the Lacks family continues to live in poverty. The family is not overly concerned about the ethics, the invasion of privacy. I keep hearing one thing. Money. They want some of the millions and millions that came from the HeLa cell factories. They want to be in the limelight, to talk about their mother yet, they didn’t know their mother.

Couple of questions that left me wondering
(1) if a bit of my cells get lopped off why aren’t they considered a bit of waste?
(2) if my body is capable of generating a particular thing (blood, shit, oil, etc) that can cure an illness, and I discover that a medical researcher made money off me selling that thing, is it unethical?

(1) it seems very unusual to consider them still my cells since I am alive and quite capable of living without them. (2) it is a little complicated. On first thought, most would say that doctor making money off me is not ethical because the blood/shit/oil/etc belongs to me, I should decide what to do with my body. If so, then those cells that are lopped off in (1) are from my body so I should decide what to do with them. Okay…what if I thought they were waste (and gave it away) when they were actually golden eggs, wouldn’t (2) become a non-ethics issue?

As I went through the book, I read many accusations that doctors, researchers didn’t explain stuff to the family. In those days, black people were terribly exploited because they were considered inferior. However, reading about how the Lacks family mixed up science with superstition, makes me wonder if some people tried to explain but they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand cancer, they didn’t understand HeLa cells, they didn’t understand a lot of things. I can’t see that they want to and are capable of understanding what is use of those cells. If the researcher had lopped off the cancer cells and had given it to the family as a present, they won’t not be capable of growing those cells and making those millions and millions. It’s not just them – most of us would dump it in the trash.

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Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

Snow Crash started out fun, fast and cool. I really enjoy the ride around the new world. Reality has pizza deliverers, courier girls on skates and hyper-inflated cities that are franchises. I like that Metaverse links to reality, where beauty of the avatar admired. It’s not a big thing in the story, but it made me admire it for its consistency.

I did not enjoy the characters and the plot. The tying of the sumerian myths to information flow is too loosely tied together in the story and feels inelegant. As if he is trying to hammer out a new thought and the characters are mouth pieces. Checking the wikipedia for memetics, I figured out what he was doing. Knowing it now doesn’t change my mind. The seller of an idea in a fiction are the characters. His characters are not that interesting for me to buy it.

I feel sexy with my kindle

How small it is! How slim it is! How light it is! Look! Look! I have five books in it now! It’s still small, slim and light! What an amazing invention! I feel slimmer! Lighter! Sexier!

I ended up with a Kindle because Mr TCM could not be persuaded to get an iPad. Well, I agree with him – the iPad is too heavy to hold at length. My house is small and with a baby on the way, there was no room for either of us to buy books. All these sound well reasoned but in fact was an impulse buy.

I had taken to reading to baby – talking to baby gets boring fast. I have new Yorker on it. I am halfway through Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I love it like I love soft tofu. I want to mash my face with my kindle.