Tenn. Parent Calls “Henrietta Lacks” Pornographic, Tries to Ban It

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Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot’s non-fiction bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (about a Baltimore woman’s remarkable “immortal” cervical cancer cells which have fueled countless medical innovations since 1951, but which were acquired without her knowledge or consent) is a fascinating look at the intersection of race, class, science, and ethics. But to at least one Tennessee parent, it’s also pornography.

Jackie Sims was “shocked” to find that the book, assigned to her 10th-grade son as part of his summer reading list, contained “so much graphic information.” Sims complained and was accommodated: her son was given a different book to read. Now Sims is trying to get the book banned in all schools in the county.

“I consider the book pornographic,” she told WBIR Knoxville. Sims said she objected to the book’s description of infidelity and of Lacks’s discovery of a lump on her cervix.

Skloot fired back on Facebook, taking issue both with Sims’s charge of pornography and with WBIR’s reporting of the story. “Interestingly, not once in the story does the reporter quote the supposed ‘graphic’ ‘pornographic’ content the parent is objecting to,” Skloot writes. “So I’ll tell you what it is: Henrietta’s husband was unfaithful, and he brought home at least one sexually transmitted disease. Also: Using her finger, Henrietta found a tumor (caused by a sexually transmitted disease) on her cervix, just as women find lumps in their breasts with their fingers. So is a breast self-exam pornography too? #‎sigh‬”

Skloot as well as several commenters on the WBIR story have blasted the outlet for referring to the book itself as “controversial,” lending undeserved credibility to Sims’s “pornography” charge.



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  1. The book is absolutely fantastic, well researched and tells a historically important story. Once again, the lunatic fringe is given a voice. Shame.

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