It’s 5:32 AM and I had to write a quick review of the book “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks”.
It’s unbelievably frustrating to read let alone realize this is a work of non-fiction. What left me astounded and stupidified was the ethical haphazards in which these scientists conducted research. One particular researcher I wanted to geton here and mention is Drs. McKenzie and Susan Hsu. Yes, the times in which the HeLa cells were collected and massively reproduced occurred alongside monstrosities like the Tuskagee syphillis studies. In Ms. Rebecca Skloot’s book there are pages after pages of scientists who unraveled their boundless frankenstein-esque scientific curiousities on a nation with no ethical laws. The story of Susan Hsu, however, caught my attention convincing me to write this on my cellphone at 5:30AM.
Quick background. Susan Hsu is requested to take blood samples from the already distraught Lacks Family by the now infamous Dr. McKusick. She does as she’s told (not given any specific instructions) and calls up the Lacks Family. With her strong accent there are obvious any barriers and miscommunication. She throws around scientific terms via phone “unknowingly” frightening the Lacks Family that they may have the cancer Henrietta Lacks passed away from. “We come to draw blood to get HLa antigen, we do genetic marker peofile because we can deduce a lot of Henrietta Lacks genotype from the childre. And the husband” (183). Susan Hsu ends up collecting the blood with no informed consent. The McKenzie lab went on and published the genetic markers of all members of the Lacks family in Science magazine disclosing names and all.
At a later interview done by Ms. Rebecca Skloot Susan Hsu answers that she had no idea the Lacks Family did not understand why she wanted their blood (to obtain a genetic map of their genome and compare to HeLa cells). She continues by stating ” they should be very proud of the mother or wife -I think that if they are angry probably they didn’t realize how famous the cells are now in the world… their mother will never die as long as the medical science is around, she will always be such a famous thing”. THING. THING?! She claims she will keep this book for her offspring to read. I really find it difficult to believe that her children and grandchildren will be proud of her work when it involved deceiving unlawful acts. The interview ended with “If they are willing… I wouldn’t mind to go back and get some more blood.”
Susan Hsu is now the current Medical Genetics Director at the American Red Cross.