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Blood Matters    by Masha Gessen order for
Blood Matters
by Masha Gessen
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Deb Kincaid

Masha Gessen's Ashkenazi Jewish heritage bequeathed a breast cancer risk of up to 87 percent, and a 50-50 chance of ovarian cancer, which totes an 80 percent death rate. Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene is not just a scientific treatise on the why's, what's and when's of genetics, though it is chock full of information. Nor is it simply a memoir of one woman's account of her unwanted affiliation with the breast cancer gene, BRCA1. It reveals the struggle between emotion and intellect, and the relevant influence of ethics and religious conviction in the field of genetics.

When the breast cancer gene exhibits a change, Gessen must make a decision. So, she begins an urgent investigation. She talks with gynecologists, psychologists, and even economists. Should she have her healthy breasts and ovaries removed to stave off the cancer that killed her mother and aunt? True, this account is Gessen's journey. Yet, we can all empathize with her relentless anxiety, the craving to know, the processing of both comprehensible and incomprehensible data, and its relevance to one's life, family and future. Unfortunately, the terrifying moment of decision may or may not lead to peace of mind. Gessen allows us to peer into her mind and heart as she sorts it all out.

Accompanying her personal account are interviews with those at the forefront of genetic mutation research, and references to countless genetic studies. She delves into the medical therapies associated with genetic mutations such as adrenoleukodystrophy, a metabolic disorder that destroys the central nervous system and which inordinately afflicts the Amish. Gessen examines the issues surrounding fertility and pregnancy, including preimplantation diagnostics and 'spare parts babies.' The book closes with a glimpse into genetic research related to human behavior.

Blood Matters unfolds deliberatively, contemplatively, in order that we may process the ramifications of discovery in the same way Gessen allowed herself to. Although told through a Jewish perspective, her book teaches all of us - Jewish or not - about the anguish BRCA1 and BRCA2 cause, and the personal relevance of genetics.

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