Tennessee mom calls Henrietta Lacks book ‘pornographic,’ seeks to have it banned in school


A bestselling book about science, race and the family of a woman whose cells were the source of some of the most important medical innovations of the 20th century is “pornographic,” according to one Tennessee mom.

Jackie Sims’ 10th-grade son was asked to read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” during the summer. “I consider the book pornographic,” she tells WBIR-TV. Her son was given an alternate text to read after her objections.

Now, Sims wants the book removed from Knox County Schools entirely.

“I just feel that strongly about it being out of the hands of our children,” she says. There are about 59,000 students in the school system, which includes about 90 schools.


“I was shocked that there was so much graphic information in the book,” Sims said.

In “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” author Rebecca Skloot, a former science reporter, writes of medical procedures and science experiments connected to the cells taken from Henrietta Lacks. She describes how Lacks, a poor African American woman, went to Johns Hopkins and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was 1951, and she didn’t live out the year; during the course of her treatment, her cells were taken without her consent.

Lacks’ cells — called HeLa cells — were the first human cells to reproduce in culture. They have been shared among researchers, with billions of the cells being bought and sold. The “immortal” cell line enabled a new generation of medical research, and such innovations as the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and more.

“Just in time for banned books week,” Skloot tweeted. “A parent in TN confuses gynecology with pornography & tries to ban my book.”

The book, released in 2010, has raked in awards, including the Wellcome Book Prize, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Award for Excellence in Science Writing and a Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Award.

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