It’s hard to imagine anyone, even a hot-blooded teenager, springing a boner while reading about a middle-aged woman finding a lump on her cervix. But that’s what keeps Tennessee mom Jackie Sims up at night. She’s on a mission to remove The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from schools in Knox County.
Deemed essential reading on scientific ethics, the book, written by teacher and journalist Rebecca Skloot, is a best-selling work of nonfiction about a poor black tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and whose cells were harvested without her permission or her family’s knowledge. These cells led to groundbreaking, not to mention fortune-making (for everyone involved except for Lacks and her family), medical advancements like the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping. “I consider the book pornographic,” Sims said, citing a passage where Lacks discovers a lump on her cervix. “I was shocked that there was so much graphic information in the book.” Her tenth-grade son was given an alternative text to read, but she is determined to get the book out from the school system, which includes about 90 schools and 59,000 students.