Let's Get Honest! Blog: Absolutely Uncommon Analysis of Family & Conciliation Courts' Operations, Practices, & History

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?…' (posted 3/23 & 3/5/2014). Over 680 posts, Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.

re: “History of race and medicine in America”

with one comment


 

So little time, so much to blog.  I could blog most major issues just through, sometimes I think, the NYT. 

Here’s an article that, to me, explains “how it goes” with low-income, black, and basically anyone running through the bottom of this “system” in the courts becomes fresh meat for someone else’s experiments. 

These days, the pharmaceutical angle (think “Ritalin” and more) hasn’t exactly diminished, but social sciences just got added.  This is about how it works with the subject matter, too — namely people. 

I look forward to reading this book.  Here’s the NYT article, page C1, “The Arts” section, on:

 

“A Woman’s Undying Gift to Science.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/books/03book.html

Published: February 2, 2010
The best book blurb I’m aware of came from Roy Blount Jr., who said about Pete Dexter’s 1988 novel, “Paris Trout”: “I put it down once to wipe off the sweat.” I’m not sure I know what that means. Was the sweat on Mr. Blount’s forehead? On the dust jacket? On the inside of his fogged-up reading glasses? But I like it.

I put down Rebecca Skloot’s first book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” more than once. Ten times, probably. Once to poke the fire. Once to silence a pinging BlackBerry. And eight times to chase my wife and assorted visitors around the house, to tell them I was holding one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time.

A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of “Erin Brockovich,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “The Andromeda Strain.” More than 10 years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write. It signals the arrival of a raw but quite real talent.

From “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Henrietta and David Lacks, circa 1945.

The woman who provides this book its title, Henrietta Lacks, was a poor and largely illiterate Virginia tobacco farmer, the great-great-granddaughter of slaves. Born in 1920, she died from an aggressive cervical cancer at 31, leaving behind five children. No obituaries of Mrs. Lacks appeared in newspapers. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

To scientists, however, Henrietta Lacks almost immediately became known simply as HeLa (pronounced hee-lah), from the first two letters of her first and last names. Cells from Mrs. Lacks’s cancerous cervix, taken without her knowledge, were the first to grow in culture, becoming “immortal” and changing the face of modern medicine. There are, Ms. Skloot writes, “trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.” Laid end to end, the world’s HeLa cells would today wrap around the earth three times.

Because HeLa cells reproduced with what the author calls a “mythological intensity,” they could be used in test after test. “They helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization,” Ms. Skloot writes. HeLa cells were used to learn how nuclear bombs affect humans, and to study herpes, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS. They were sent up in the first space missions, to see what becomes of human cells in zero gravity.

Bought and sold and shipped around the world for decades, HeLa cells are famous to science students everywhere. But little has been known, until now, about the unwitting donor of these cells. Mrs. Lacks’s own family did not know that her cells had become famous (and that people had grown wealthy from marketing them) until more than two decades after her death, after scientists had begun to take blood from her surviving family members, without their informed consent, in order to better study HeLa.

Ms. Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating. She reports, for example, on the history and science of cellular research, about its pioneers and its calumnies. But “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” resonates most as a complex and vital human document and a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives.

Ms. Skloot tells the story of Mrs. Lacks’s life, from those tobacco fields in small-town Clover, Va., to the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the 1950s, where she was treated for her cancer, and where her cells were harvested. She follows the members of Mrs. Lacks’s family to East Baltimore, where many of them live today, still struggling with her complicated legacy. As one of Mrs. Lacks’s sons says: “She’s the most important person in the world, and her family living in poverty. If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is packed with memorable characters, from quirky if brilliant early researchers to Nobel Prize-winning Nazi sympathizers to long-haired Rolling Stone reporters in the 1970s to a con artist known as Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield. (Just when you think things can’t get weirder, Judge Joseph Wapner — the “People’s Court” television judge — makes a cameo.)

Ms. Skloot is a memorable character herself. She never intrudes on the narrative, but she takes us along with her on her reporting, as she moves around the country in her battered, muffler-free black Honda. Her most complicated job is to get Mrs. Lacks’s family, who are tired of white people trying to pry information from them, to speak with her. She does eventually win them over. And Mrs. Lacks’s daughter Deborah is dead-on when she says to Ms. Skloot: “Get ready, girl. You got no idea what you gettin’ yourself into.”

Ms. Skloot writes with particular sensitivity and grace about the history of race and medicine in America. Black oral history, she points out, is full of stories about “night doctors,” men who could pluck black patients off the streets to experiment on their bodies. There was some truth behind those tales.

The author traces events like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, in which poor and uneducated black men with syphilis were recruited and then allowed to die terrible and entirely preventable deaths, while doctors lied to them and kept life-saving penicillin from them. Ms. Skloot makes it abundantly clear why, when Henrietta Lacks’s family learned that her cells were still living, the images that ran through their minds were straight out of science-fiction horror movies.

STOP.  THINK.  LISTEN.  Now, regarding “domestic violence,” again, WHY can’t these judges, attorneys, advocates, case workers, and Ph.D.’s talking about its causes, characteristics, and so forth, do a _ _ _ _ thing to actually STOP it?  
What, and stop the profit from it?  You gots to be kiddin’…..

This is the place in a review where critics tend to wedge in the sentence that says, in so many words, “This isn’t a perfect book.” And “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” surely isn’t. But there isn’t much about it I’d want to change. It has brains and pacing and nerve and heart, and it is uncommonly endearing. You might put it down only to wipe off the sweat.

 

Mrs. Lacks had another daughter, Elsie, who was deaf and mute and possibly retarded. Elsie was shipped off at a young age to Crownsville State Hospital in Maryland, formerly known as the Hospital for the Negro Insane, and died there at 15. Perhaps the most devastating moment in this book comes when Ms. Skloot, along with Deborah, finds a grim photograph of Elsie in the hospital’s records and uncovers some of the horrors of what life there must have been like.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is also, from first page to last, a meditation on medical ethics — on the notion of informed consent, and on the issue of who owns human cells. When they’re in your body, it’s obvious — they’re yours. But once they’ve been removed? All bets are clearly off.

 

For comparison, think “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed.”

“A wake-up call to women about unquestioningly accepting doctors’ orders”. –Donna Chavez, Booklist, July issue”Seaman passionately and convincingly argues that women have been unnecessarily put at risk by doctors treating menopause as a disease.” —Publishers Weekly“Barbara Seaman is the first prophet of the women’s health movement and her prophesies are still coming true.” –Gloria Steinem”Barbra Seaman started a revolution in women’s health by questioning what was taken for granted and meticulously exposing how little had been established about the safety of many common drugs and practices.” –Devra Lee David, Ph.D.”Barbra Seaman is one of the heroines of the women’s health movement. She was one of the first people to point out that postmenopausal hormones could be dangerous and has been a relentless fighter for the health of women.” –Susan Love, M.D.

“If a menopausal woman has pain or makes trouble, pound her hard on the jaw.” –Egyptian medical text, 2000 B.C.

For almost a century women have been taking some form of estrogen to combat the effects of menopause and aging, and more recently to prevent a host of diseases, from osteoporosis to Alzheimer’s to heart disease. For most of that hundred years, doctors have been prescribing estrogen in either its organic or synthetic forms, and women have gone to their pharmacists and dutifully filled their prescriptions. In some cases, menopause sufferers who were experiencing the most extreme symptoms were in search of relief from hot flashes, night sweats, dryness, and more, but increasingly in recent years, women began receiving estrogen sometimes with progesterone as “hormone therapy,” not because they were in immediate danger of anything but rather as a preventative. But was this regimen warranted? Did doctors know enough about estrogen and its effects to be widely prescribing it for such a range of ailments? Or were women being used as guinea pigs in a great experiment, an experiment the author terms “The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women”?Since the 1960s, women’s health icon Barbara Seaman has been one of the lone voices in journalism to question whether doctors have sufficient justification to be writing so many estrogen prescriptions, or whether it is the pharmaceutical industry that is driving the research, marketing, and use of hormone replacement therapy. In 2002, several important women’s health studies revealed that estrogen may cause more problems in patients than it is correcting or preventing, and that in fact it has a dismal record in terms of prevention.This groundbreaking book illuminates today’s “menopause industry,” tracing the history of estrogen use from its early purveyors, including a well-meaning British doctor who lost control of the marketing of DES and therefore inadvertently led to the DES baby crisis, to Nazi experimentation with women and estrogen, to the present, and looks at how an experiment of this proportion could have been conducted without oversight, intervention, or real knowledge as to what its effects would be.A women’s health advocate for more than forty years, Barbara Seaman is a national judge of the Project Censored Awards, an advanced science writing Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and the cofounder of the National Women’s Health Network, a women’s advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that refuses money from the drug industry as part of its charter. A frequent contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post, she has been either a columnist or contributing editor at the following publications: Ms., Omni, Ladies’ Home Journal, Bride’s, Family Circle, and Hadassah magazine. She is the author of The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill, For Women Only: Your Guide to Health Empowerment, Free and Female, Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones, and Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. She lives in New York City.

 Irrelevant?  Maybe, but another lead paper today says that maternal deaths are up because of too many C-sections.  Gee, wonder why…

Well, folks, that’s about all the time I have for today.  Don’t forget to also track what’s up with the Haitians and the Baptists, if you’re not following that, you’re just not awake. 

Written by Let's Get Honest

February 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

One Response

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  1. wow..awesome!! I found very helpful articels in here.
    Thanks for the sharing and keep posting. 😀
    BR
    Auliandri

    Auliandri

    February 6, 2010 at 9:23 pm


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martinplaut

Journalist specialising in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa

Let's Get Honest! Blog: Absolutely Uncommon Analysis of Family & Conciliation Courts' Operations, Practices, & History

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?...' (posted 3/23 & 3/5/2014). Over 680 posts, Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.

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