Rotary Madison — Notable Books Fellowship

So, what goes on at a monthly meeting of the Rotary Notable Books Group you ask?

A lot of discussion about interesting books! For example, on September 22, the Rotary Notable Book Group met at the Takara Japanese restaurant to discuss the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The book has been on the New York Times best seller list for many months.

Notable Books Fellowship Group (L-R): Ruth Ann Schoer, Darrell Behnke, Rich Leffler, Joan Leffler, Frank Stein and Roberta Sladky.

Frank Stein, a member of the group, gives us the following summary of their meeting:

Essentially the author describes the case of Henrietta Lacks, a mother of five who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. While in treatment at the noted Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a slice of cancerous tissue was taken from the cervix and given to a laboratory scientist for analysis. The cancer cells in the tissue proved to be very much alive and continued to reproduce at a tremendous pace. This was a great scientific breakthrough since previous tissue cultures used in laboratory research containing cancer cells usually died within days.

The most fascinating part of the book was the depiction of the Lack’s family.  They were descendants of black slaves from Virginia who lived on the edges of society in poverty with poor education and lack of opportunities to better their lives. Another aspect of the story was the question of informed consent in research studies and who benefits from research that uses tissues from someone’s body? We had a lively discussion of the abuse of research in the lack of informed consent to patients in the past, such as with syphilis
patients and prisoners who were given live cancer cells.  In this book Skloot examines specifically how the exploitation of poor, uneducated people who are unaware of the research taking place can lead to legal dilemmas especially when huge profits are made on the basis of the findings. Should patients have any financial gains from tissues taken from their bodies?  This question has not been completely settled and the courts have been split in their verdicts.

In summary this was an excellent book that raised many scientific issues and described a culture of poverty that still exists in this country.

The Rotary Club of Madison has 500 members from business, academia, healthcare and public and community service.  It is one of the ten largest Rotary International clubs in the world and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013.  Rotary International is a service club with local and global reach.  It’s 34,000 clubs in over 200 countries have 1.2 million members who meet weekly to develop friendships, learn, and work together to address important humanitarian needs. 

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