As I began reading this book, I was taken by the force of the emotion expressed throughout. The book is well written and although it is technical it is easy to read. It will move you from page one until the end.
There is an implication in the book, that Henrietta, quite possibly, got substandard care because she was black. Their treatment often began later, medication was scarcer and black patients would not question white doctors who frequently treated them inequitably, in less than equal facilities. The alternate reason for her lack of diagnosis and, perhaps, improper treatment, is that those were the days when patients were kept from knowing the truth of their diagnosis because it was too frightening for them to handle. Yet, although there is evidence that she repeatedly complained, no cancer diagnosis was made until it was, abruptly, way too late and she died a painful, premature death, at 31.
The despicable act of experimenting on humans, without their consent, was common practice even as late as the fifties, especially, it seems, in the black population. Doctors who thought of themselves as G-dlike, believing the results of their research ultimately justified the means they used, duped their ill patients, without warning or advising them, of what they planned. They were experimental subjects and had no clue.
The author's research takes her to the landscape of Henrietta's life. At first, she was received by the family with skepticism, but in the end, they were very accepting of her effort to tell the world about their mother. The family had been abused by the medical profession. They were kept in the dark about their mother's illness and their lack of education kept them ignorant of the facts they needed to discover what had really happened. Had they understood, they quite possibly could have fought for an equitable distribution of profits, before the Statute of Limitations ran out. Sadly, while Henrietta'a cells afforded others, who had the means, innovative treatments, her own family could not afford anything but the most basic health care.
It is hard to read about the poverty of the Lacks’ existence and reconcile it with the wealth of information that her cells have helped to discover, coupled with the financial wealth, as well, that her cells have provided for those who used them to advance their research. Although they had so few creature comforts, no education and substandard health care, they had great faith and lived their lives supporting each other in life's unspeakably cruel arena. Most were proud that their mom’s cells were able to advance medicine and save lives. They only wished it might have also been used to save their own.
This is a sad book with tragic circumstances but the characters are real and so the impact of the story is profound. Life knocks them down and they keep getting up, trying to rise above the scars caused by the vast deprivation and evil around them and somehow they manage to face life in a simple spiritual way, with an ability to forgive. The component of faith, makes this book's ultimate message, more beautiful.
As an aside, at one point in the story, Rebecca more or less tells Deborah that if her book is published she will start a fund for the education of Henrietta's heirs. I wonder if she kept her promise or if she, like others, simply used the Lacks family to advance themselves and their projects.