Earlier this month, a mother from Tennessee called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot “pornographic”–because of the description of Henrietta discovering a cervical tumor–and demanded it be removed from the school’s reading list.
Rebecca Skloot responded in the best way.
First, she called the mother out for “confusing gynecology with pornography,” and second, and even better, she’s raising funds to donate copies of her book to kids who can’t afford it.*
The book traces the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s. When Henrietta died, she left behind six children–and cells from a sample her doctor had taken from one of her tumors.
No one in Henrietta’s family knew the doctors had taken the sample. The cells, now known as HeLa cells, became the first cells that survived in a laboratory setting and led to many scientific advances, including the polio vaccine.
Now scientific and pharmaceutical companies sell HeLa cells to labs across the country, but Henrietta’s family has never seen any of the profit. Skloot has attempted to offset this injustice by using proceeds from her book to create The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which you can read more about here.
In her compassionate and beautiful telling of Henrietta’s story, Skloot raises issues of medical ethics, race, poverty, and more as she investigates Henrietta’s life, death, and the legacy she left behind. Getting young adults to read this book is an incredible way to promote scientific literacy and engage broader issues of medical ethics and our country’s long history of viewing people of color as “less than.”