So, we finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (aka “White People Are The Worst“) for book club- it’s an astounding book. Really. Every human being should read it. It just reinforced how little I actually know about… well, everything.
There are giant markers in the book- about race, about science, about the progress of medicine but what’s stayed with me is the mentality of medical researchers. The brilliant, forward-thinking medical researchers and about that moment when a researcher decides that the Results justify the Means.
I remember when I was a volunteer at Cedar Sinai Hospital, standing in the maternity ward. The nurses run the maternity ward, were buzzing around, all business and I remember a med student (or maybe a resident) standing there one day. He looked epically young, a Doogie Howser sort, I remember thinking, but what struck me most was his attitude- the way he talked to the nurses. I wasn’t a big fan of the nurses there- they were coarse and unfriendly with the volunteers (not that I expected too much but sometimes there was hostility simmering toward us that I found a little baffling) but this guy’s attitude toward them made me want to rally them up and lead a charge (something that involved throwing a lot of empty syringes at his head- the plan was unformed at best). The size of his ego was incredible to me. He spoke to them as if they were idiots and he was in charge (when I knew for a fact that he wasn’t).
Obviously, to lump that guy in with the hordes of smart, dedicated and wonderful doctors out there would be ludicrous. I guess I’m just saying that when you’re in a very small class of people with this level of specialized knowledge, how much ego do you need to see it through and make a difference- and how much more do you need to inject unknowing patients with cancer cells to test their reactions without their knowledge- because the advancement of cancer research is Very Important and because those patients, according to you, could not be trusted to separate the words “injecting you with cancer cells” and the actual negligible risks of getting cancer as a result. Though you would never inject yourself with those cells because, as you say when you’re interviewed by an award-winning science journalist, you’re just far too important to the cause.