Justice Prevails: Henrietta Lacks’ Family Settles Historic Cell Case


A settlement has been struck between the family of a black lady whose cervical cells were unknowingly extracted in 1951 and have been endlessly duplicated ever since. Huge strides in medical science were made possible by Henrietta Lacks’ cells, and the cell line is still utilized by research facilities all over the world. However, they were seized against their will.

The family of Ms. Lacks has sought for justice about the stolen cells for years without receiving any sort of compensation. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Massachusetts and I negotiated a settlement on Monday, but the specifics have not been made public. In 1951, Ms.Lacks, a 31-year-old Baltimore, Maryland, mother, began experiencing abdominal pain and strange bleeding. Gynecologists at Johns Hopkins Hospital examined her and found a  large mass on her cervix.

However, while almost all other laboratory cell cultures quickly perished, Ms. Lacks’s cells multiplied indefinitely and showed no signs of aging, making them appear to be immortal. Global research labs received the cell line, which was given the moniker HeLa in honor of Ms. Lacks’ first and last names. HeLa cells, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), have improved HIV, cancer, and infertility research as well as led to the development of the polio vaccine.

The cells’ miraculous scientific qualities, however, also rendered them deadly. She was only 31 when she passed away from cancer a few months after being diagnosed. She was buried in an unidentified burial. The Lacks family did not learn what had happened to her cells until many years later.

She was in pain at the end of her life as a result of the treatment performed by the doctors, according to civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the family in negotiations with Thermo Fisher. He claimed that the abuse she endured was comparable to what other Black Americans who sought medical care in the US had gone through.

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Enduring Injustice and the Fight Against Medical Racism

Photo by: Steve Ruark via AP Photo

The complaint that resulted in the payment on Monday stated that Henrietta Lacks’ mistreatment represents the regrettably common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history. In the United States, too frequently, the history of medical experimentation has been the history of medical racism. 

Mr. Crump stated at a press conference on Tuesday, the day before Ms. Lacks would have turned 103, and both parties were pleased with the deal. Giving her family some respect for Henrietta Lacks, some decency for Henrietta Lacks, and most importantly some amount of justice for Henrietta Lacks is the best present, according to Mr. Crump.

Thermo Fisher made numerous attempts to get the case dismissed on the reason that the statute of limitations had passed. However, the Lacks family’s attorneys claimed that because the cells are still replicating, the limitation has not yet been reached. Every time they regenerate or profit from Henrietta Lacks’ genetic material, the statute of limitations starts to accrue again, says Mr. Crump.

The WHO hosted a ceremony in 2021 to honor the numerous scientific discoveries made possible by Ms. Lacks. “What happened to Henrietta was wrong,” declared WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a special ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. She put her faith in the medical system to receive treatment, yet it took something away from her without her knowledge or permission.

A bill to honor Ms. Lacks with the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously was introduced last week in the US Senate by the Maryland delegation. Henrietta Lacks changed the course of modern medicine, according to a statement from Senator Chris Van Hollen. 

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Source: BBC News, AP News

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