Unwitting Medical Heroine Henrietta Lacks’ Family Takes on Big Pharma
The family of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were extracted without her consent and used in major medical triumphs, revealed plans to sue the huge pharmaceutical companies that profited from those advancements on Thursday.
Lacks, a 31-year-old mother of five, died of cervical cancer at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951.
Cells from her tumor had been collected and passed to a researcher without her knowledge during treatment attempts – and utilized for decades without her family’s knowledge.
“For far too long, the Lacks family has been exploited, exploited by the Lacks family. And we say no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, “Not any longer,” said her grandson Alfred Carter on Thursday.
“Therefore, pharmaceutical firms, you have been put on notice.”
The Lacks family has hired famed civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has represented the relatives of several African Americans slain in police encounters, including George Floyd’s family.
“Black life in America must be valued,” Crump stated, announcing that he would file a lawsuit on the 70th anniversary of the disputed samples on October 4.
Lacks’ cells, known as HeLa cells, have enabled scientists all across the world to develop vaccinations, including those for polio, cancer therapies, and various cloning procedures, resulting in a multibillion-dollar industry.
Her family first learned of Lacks’ contributions to medical science in the 1970s, and it wasn’t until Rebecca Skloot’s best-selling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” in 2010 that they fully grasped her impact.
Crump’s colleague Christopher Seeger said the complaint would be filed against any corporation that had “profited from the use” of the cells and had not made a settlement with the family.
Crump and Seeger did not name any of the companies that they believe to be involved in the legal action.
Lacks’ descendants did achieve an agreement with Johns Hopkins University in 2013 to have two family members serve on a committee that would approve future HeLa cell uses. However, compensation was not included in the deal.
Johns Hopkins Hospital claims that it has never profited or sold HeLa cells, and that it does not hold the rights to them.