Roommates, it’s been decades since Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used for research without her consent, and her descendants are fighting back and trying to receive justice for it. According to CNN, her family filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. for unjust enrichment from nonconsensual use and profiting from her tissue sample and cell line.
If you’re not familiar with Henrietta, she was a Black woman who resided in Baltimore and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Following her diagnosis, she had tissue taken from her cervix without her consent during a procedure at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. Thanks to Henrietta’s sample, a doctor created the first human cell line known as HeLa cells to reproduce outside the body. Unfortunately, one year later, Henrietta passed away from cancer at the age of 31.
Henrietta’s story gained popularity after Oprah Winfrey executive produced the 2017 film “The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks” based on the 2010 novel written by Rebecca Skloot. The movie detailed how HeLa cells allowed scientists to have the ability to experiment and create life-saving medicine for polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. In addition, it helped with cancer and AIDS research.a
Attorney Benjamin Crump is representing the Lacks family and publically criticized the company. The lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific alleges that the company is knowingly profiting from the “unlawful conduct” of the Johns Hopkins doctors and that its “ill-gotten gains rightfully belong to Ms. Lacks’ Estate.” In addition, the suit also argues that the company is making a conscious choice to sell and mass-produce the living tissue of Henrietta Lacks. A Black woman, grandmother, and community leader, despite the corporation’s knowledge that Ms. Lacks’ tissue was taken from her without her consent by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a racially unjust medical system.
The suit alleges at least 12 products marketed by Thermo Fisher include the HeLa cell line. According to their website, the company currently generates approximately $35 billion annual revenue. The US House of Representatives and John Hopkins have publicly spoken out about the HeLa cells and the wrongdoing to Henrietta Lacks, so now we’ll see what a judge determines about this lawsuit. Roommates, we’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.
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