Mom Wants Book on Cervical Cancer Banned for Being 'Pornographic'

Did you know Banned Books Week is coming up at the end of September? One mother in Tennessee seems to be aware, and appears to be celebrating the date by trying to get a book about a famous case of scientific misdoing -- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks -- pulled from the classroom for being "pornographic."


The book in question is a must-read story about the places science goes without a healthy dose of human ethics to prop it up. The titular Ms. Lacks was a low-income black woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and whose cancerous cells were harvested for use in research -- without her knowledge or consent. Lacks died destitute in 1951, while the cell line taken from her body went on to flourish in labs around the world. (In fact, when I was in graduate school in 2005, some of my research revolved around that exact cell line.) It's an important story, and one that deserves to be told.

But according to mother Jackie Sims, this book was out of place on her tenth-grade son's summer reading list and deserves to be removed from the district's curriculum entirely. Why? The book references infidelity from Lacks's husband, and also explains how she discovered her tumor: by putting a finger inside her vagina to feel the outside of her cervix. And apparently, that makes the book "pornographic"! This is probably the least-appealing porn concept I have ever heard of (who thinks the cervix is an erogenous zone?), and that leaves off the fact that Lacks actually discovered a tumor as part of this event.

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Sims's son was given an alternate assignment to replace this text (poor kid), but Sims isn't content with that: She wants the book completely removed from the curriculum so that no other kids have a chance to read it either. Sorry, lady, but acknowledging the existence of human anatomy is not pornography -- especially not in the context of a cancer check. And dealing with issues like cancer, and scientific ethics, is certainly not too much to expect from tenth-graders. High school students deserve to be engaged like the almost-adults they are, and that means tackling difficult issues like these that can't be wrapped up in a sterile picture book with a happy ending.

There is one silver lining in all this, though (besides the beautiful irony of this hitting the news in time for Banned Books Week later this month) -- and that's the chance that this hand-wringing controversy brings this book to the attention of more people and wins it a place on even more reading lists.


Image via Amazon

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