Fun Fact: I ruined my eyes by reading in the dark when I was six. I have worn glasses ever since.
I’ve always been an avid reader. Looking back at my younger self, I have to chuckle because no book is worth needing vision insurance for life. But here we are and Warby Parker exists for a reason. Since starting grad school, I have not had as much time to read anything other than textbooks. However, I have come back to reading ironically through the same avenue I started – at night. Reading leisurely in the evenings before bed has improved the quality my sleep and helped me decompress from a taxing day of law school. And before anyone slanders me for not learning from my mistakes, I just read with the light on now. Part of why I started this blog was to make bioethics more down-to-earth and accessible. Most people do not have access to boujee, posh, academic libraries and databases. What we DO have is Amazon and Barnes and Noble. So here are some easily accessible bioethics/healthcare books that I have either read or am reading. Hope you enjoy!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is probably the most well known book on this list because HBO recently made it into a movie, staring Oprah Winfrey. The story starts in Baltimore, Maryland where Henrietta Lacks, a black woman treated in Johns Hopkins’ colored hospital wing, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While receiving treatment, her cancerous cells were taken without her consent and used in medical research. What the physicians and researchers involved did not realize was that these cells would not die like the cells typically used for scientific research. They continued to multiply and were used to develop cures for many diseases – all without the knowledge or financial compensation of her family. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the true story of the Lacks family coping with multiple bioethics grievances and their consequences. It also takes care to show the effects of poverty, access, and racism on medicine. If you want to see the real-life reasons for why bioethics matters combined with a powerful and honest story, this is the book for you.
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. This book was the main source for my blog post – Slaves Can’t Give Informed Consent (check it out here). Medical Apartheid is an anthology of the African-American people and their relationship with healthcare. Starting with slavery, it explains Black skepticism of western medicine and the crude and cruel methods used to give slaves medical “treatment”. Then it moves at a rapid fire pace to modern day – highlighting everything from little known human experimentation on blacks to population control through eugenics. This is a heavy read. Matter of fact, I was so distraught after the first chapter that I had to put down the book for a while to gather myself. Harriet Washington tells the very raw and very ugly truth. The clarity this book gives regarding attitudes about healthcare in minority communities alone is enough to leave a person shaken. If you have the stomach for Game of Thrones, you can probably get through this book. If not, you may want to take it in increments.
What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri. Now THIS is one of my favorite books at the moment. I was first introduced to Danielle Ofri’s work at a bioethics event at Harvard Medical School. She was promoting What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear – her seventh book on bettering communication between physicians and patients, general physician health, and cultural competency. After about five minutes of listening to Dr. Ofri share the inspiration behind this particular book, I knew I had to make this purchase. This book pretty much embodies Dr. Ofri’s general vibe – sweet, genuine, and candid. It poses well-thought out questions about how patients and doctors interact and the importance of listening. The personal accounts given in this book are also relatable and insightful. As someone who studied some clinical ethics mediation, this book even made me ask myself how much do I listen and if I could do more. I would really recommend this book to medical students and young doctors. It is a well written primer on what patients are really looking for and where medicine extends beyond science. Serious yet funny, this is an easy, inspiring read.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Poverty of Privacy Rights by Khiara Bridges. I have not read this book yet because I have been waiting for this book to drop for months. BUT it recently released and I have read an excerpt to tide me over until I can pick up a copy from my library (yes I still borrow books from libraries). Khiara Bridges is a Professor of Law and Anthropology at Boston University. My nickname for her is The Goddess, because she literally does it all – down to being a professional ballerina on the weekend. The Poverty of Privacy Rights, her second book, examines how poverty can eclipse pregnant women’s right to privacy. With a specific focus on women in need of government assistance, it also poses to the reader questions regarding why poverty and government assistance are treated as cardinal sins. The book is still warm from the presses because it was just released a few weeks ago. If you are looking to support an accomplished, black academic – this is the book to get.
Seeing that Barnes and Noble has food and wine now, there’s no real excuse for you to not traipse over to your local store and check these books out. So if you are looking to study bioethics, are already in the field, or just want some interesting reads, pick one up. Links for all of the books mentioned, print and audio, are listed below. Let me know what you are reading in the comments – I’m always looking for a new book!
The Neighborhood Bioethicist
The Poverty of Privacy Rights – Amazon