The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

henrietta lacks

In Nick Hornby’s book About a Boy made into a 2002 film, also about a boy, but with the big buck’s bonus of Hugh Grant as the lead, Will Freeman, bonds with a young boy and kids on he’s a single parent to get into the pants of Rachel Weisz, who’s definitely all woman, and not an LA hooker, the fiction is that Freeman can only live the life of Reilly because he inherited the rights to the song ‘Happy Birthday’. Every time it was sung in the world it began to rain dollar bills on him.

Imagine a world in which the family of Bill Gates couldn’t afford a computer were living on welfare or locked in a cycle of dead-end jobs or prison. Imagine a world in which ways of editing the germ-line of genes, Crispr, and changing the face and bodies of humanity and other species, curing cancer and AIDs, worth billions of dollars is the frontline of research by the growing biotech industries and go back to 1951.

Maverick scientist George Gey’s assistant took cell samples of tissue from Henrietta Lack’s cervix, which proved to be cancerous. 15 000 women a year were dying from cervical cancer. Herietta Lacks was no exception. She died in agony in the public wards of John Hopkins hospital segregated from white people ‘the blackness be spreadin all inside’ her. They were sure Henrietta Lack’s tissue would die too, as so many tissue cultures had died before it, but it did something extraordinary, it lived on to circle the earth and be taken into orbit by astronauts. HeLa cells were the Adam and Eve of tissue culture. It was traded and sold and still exists, but in modified form, much as the original Windows operating system lives on.

Rebecca Skloot (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks wasn’t the first to investigate what happened to the husband and three small children, two still in diapers, she left behind, but she was the most comprehensive, gaining the families trust, and in particular that of Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. All of the family have health problems. Deborah for example quotes what the Social Security people said about her.

I’m paranoid, I’m schizophrenia, I’m nervous. I got anxiety, depression, degenerating kneecaps, bursitis, bulged discs in my back, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cholesterol…’

Deborah doesn’t wish to be immortal.

Truth be told, I can’t be mad at science, because it help people live, and I’d be a mess without it… but I won’t lie, I would like some health insurance so I don’t got to pay all that health insurance every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.’

Henrietta’s youngest son is mad, constantly beaten as child, nicknamed Crazy Joe as an adult, he found Islam in prison, where he served time for murder after stabbing another black men straight through the heart with a knife, and he changed his name to Zakarihya. New start. Same old Crazy Joe when he came out. The truth teller.

Them doctors say her cells is so important and did all this and that to help people. But it didn’t do no good for her, and it didn’t do no good for us. If me and my sister need something, we can’t even see a doctor because we can’t afford it. Only people that got any good from my mother’s cells is the people that got money, and whoever sellin those cells—they get rich off mother and we got nothing.’

Crazy Joe recognises there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor. But Rebecca Skloot gets inside the nuclear family, even though she’s white, by being honest, hardworking, sympathetic and poor. We need more Rebecca Skloots clones in this world. Ask yourself this question would a biotech company exploit a nice middle-class boy like Hugh Grant in the same way? Crazy Joe is the sanest man this side of the moon.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

One Nation – Aye right! What planet are you living on pal?

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I met Scott Halley on my way up Singers Road. I assumed he’d been to the polling station. But he told me he didn’t bother. I know a lot of people that don’t bother. I can’t say I blame them. We live in a more-it-tocracy. The more you have the more you expect and the more you get, whether it’s wealth, jobs, health, or education. For the poor politics is something done to you. When you expect nothing and get nothing there are no surprises. That’s what governments do, give you less and less and expect you to stretch it more and more. More-it-tocracy is the politics of the rich.

The big losers in the election were the Labour Party. Alex Salmond called their bluff saying when you make an ally of the Tory Party, as they did in the referendum, and wear the same clothes, people often find it difficult to tell them apart. Ask Clegg and the Liberal Party. The truth is, apart from Trident, there’s not a lot of difference between SNP policies and New Labours. The big difference is SNP haven’t betrayed us – yet, because they haven’t been in the position to do so. We expect the Tory party to do what they do, give money to the rich, take money from the poor, dismantle the welfare state. It’s a tick list and they’re working their way down it.

As Neil Kinnock said of Thatcherism before losing the election to John Major: ‘I warn you not to be ordinary; I warn you not to be young; I warn you not to fall ill; I warn you not to get old’.

Labours biggest fault (well apart from making an ally of David Cameron) was not challenging the Tory lies about the need to bring down the deficit. Historically money at practically zero percent interest has never been so cheap. Apple, by share price and profits, one of the most successful company in corporate history has debt because it’s cheaper to borrow and spend on physical and social capital than just spend. It’s called investing in the future. That well known socialist institution The International Monetary Fund said much the same thing.

Why did we believe this great lie? Well for one thing the 2008 crash happened on Labour’s watch. And although they made noises about what the Tory cuts were doing to society it was too little and too late. Haunted by a past defeat to John Major, when most electoral polls put Labour ahead, the party blamed the electorate for not being able to stomach what was then a modest increase in taxation. The electoral success of Blair and Brown in agreeing to Tory fiscal constraints before being elected was a straitjacket Ed Miliband wore with pride. He was even pictured with it written in stone. They should bury him under it. Labour like the Liberal Party is finished. It’s the equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling. The choices in England are Conservative or Tory? Tory or Conservative? With less than twenty percent of the popular vote they lord it over the United Kingdom.

The Scottish National Party for whom I voted with fifty-two percent of the popular vote in Scotland and 56 of 59 seats is the winner. When Osborne dismantles the welfare state and hollows out the rights of workers and reduces those on benefits to rations and foodbanks that no modern European country, or its citizens, would find tolerable, Salmond can smugly say I told you so. But he can do nothing about it. Win win for him and SNP. Lose, lose for those on less than £100 000 a year.

History is when we’re doomed to make the same mistakes. After the Scottish referendum was lost in 1979 Labour were called the ‘feeble fifty’ because over fifty Labour Members of Parliament had Scottish seats but they could do nothing to halt Thatcherism. SNP MPs mirror that reality.

The big hope is when Cameron holds a referendum over Britain leaving the EEC.  England may well vote yes. Scotland will vote no. We could have a constitutional crisis. I’m sorry to say I was right about the Tory’s winning this election, but less sorry about predicting SNP sweeping Labour aside in Scotland. They got what they deserve. The problem is the Conservatives never seem to get what they deserve. Heads they win. Tails you lose. The games rigged and the poor man is always the loser. Scott Halley has a point. There’s no point in politics. I’m moving my assets to Switzerland where they’ll properly appreciate and I may follow on later.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole