I know I usually reserve the Friday entry for gratitude, and before I head out on this rant, I will assure you that it still is a post about being grateful. It's just that ever since I heard that news story about the Tennessee Mom, Jackie Sims, who wants to ban The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I have not been able to get Jackie Sims out of my head. The more I think about her reasoning for the removal of the book the more I wish she was standing in this room with me so that I could shake her and tell her what an irresponsible and ignorant human being she is.
Now I have not read this book yet. It is on my reading list though. As a scientist who has worked with HeLa cells it is an important book for me to read. I have also been an outspoken person regarding gene patents and genetic ownership and how some companies tend to cross a serious line. Which is what they did regarding Henrietta and her whole family. Now, just for argument sake, let's remove the race card from this story (just briefly, because I am well aware that Henrietta's story is one of exploitation of black people). Jackie Sims believes this story to be "pornographic" and should be told in a "better" way. I think this woman may be referring to the section of the book that explains how Henrietta Lacks discovered her tumor while in the bathtub. Meaning she found the tumor through self discovery of her own body. Let me tell you how dangerous it is for this Tennessee Mom to see this as pornographic.
Right off the bat she sending a message that there is something shameful and dirty about human sexual organs and in particular, female sexual organs. She is teaching a teenage boy that women's bodies are shameful and not their own, which leads to the insinuation that if a woman's body is not her own, it is therefor property of a man to be treated however this man deems fit. Secondly she is teaching her son that self exploration of one's body is a dirty shameful thing when it is clear that this is how we can find things that seem a little off so we can tell our doctor. I couldn't help but think that while I laid in my bed the other morning performing my monthly breast exam that Jackie Sims would consider this to be a pornographic act. So when she says that this story could be told in a better way, does she mean that we should use made up names for those parts of the human anatomy? No one is going to take a scientific book seriously if you replace the word vagina with whoha. Same reason why no one should take Jackie Sims seriously.
Most importantly this is a story of how an entire family has been wronged by the medical industry. That is the very essence of this book. I believe that by making an issue about the human anatomy, Jackie Sims pulls attention from the true point of this story and that's where the issue of race comes into play. Focusing on a small section of the story where Henrietta touches herself is degrading to this story and degrading to Henrietta Lack and is a misdirection from the true story about the exploitation of a black family. Henrietta Lacks' story is a women's rights issue. It is a civil rights issue. It is a human rights issue. That should be the take-away.
Henrietta Lacks' cells have been instrumental in scientific research and for this I am truly grateful, but I am not above the shame involved in knowing how scientists obtained these cells. Henrietta's story is a reminder of just how important it is for me to be an ethical scientist and I am grateful that Rebecca Skloot brought Henrietta and her family's story to light.
I am thankful for Henrietta Lacks