S4L Book Club – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I finished this book a while back and was telling my 17-year-old son about it. It started a good half-hour debate on the power of education. In your opinion, what parts of this book could be used in a debate to support the cause of education? Were there any parts of the book that showed negative results of education?

I’ll start by offering one example to support education. Deborah’s lack of education left her ignorant regarding cells and how they grew. She nearly went crazy thinking of the cells as part of her mother going to the moon and being part of the hydrogen bomb. If she had been educated, she would have understood that her mother’s cells didn’t cause her mother to feel pain after her death. Deborah was so upset over this, she couldn’t sleep. It’s a sad example of how lack of education created physical and emotional agony.

Categories: Reading

4 replies »

  1. Certainly there’s a basic level of education and literacy that all people should have.

    But I also think doctors, nurses, receptionists, people in medical insurance–everyone in the medical field–should read the whole book as part of training. Medical professionals need to be aware of miscommunication, how often it occurs, and how to deal with it to assure patients have the information they need. Maybe doctors and nurses are too busy to deal with poorly educated patients. (I don’t really think there’s any “maybe” about that!) In that case, there should be some sort of patient advocate available to take the time needed to help patients understand.

    I think the book demonstrated a lack of education on both sides…of the tissue.

  2. Yes, indeed!
    I think it was interesting that several of the people who felt they had explained things to family members, particularly Deborah, were convinced she had understood because she was intelligent. Unfortunately intelligence and education are not the same thing.
    A chronic problem in health care is lack of effective communication. I think that many health care providers are aware of the problem and make a sincere effort to gear explanations to the understanding of the client or patient. However, even those who really try don’t always succeed and may not realize it. And then there are those who don’t even try…

    Off topic, but related. I discovered today that Alexander McCall Smith, next month’s author, is not only a professor emeritus in medical ethics law (I knew that part), but served on committees on *bioethics* for UNESCO. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear his take on this book?

  3. Oh, yes! So…are you going to call him?

    One of the reasons I’m uncomfortable with medical issues is because there’s so much I don’t understand. There’s a ton of info online; just sifting through it is overwhelming. But then there are conflicting ideas and advice, outdated recommendations, personal opinions and experiences, unanswered questions. Bleh.

    I’ll eat well, exercise, and be grateful I’m generally healthy.