Biotech company settles suit claiming unauthorized use of Henrietta Lacks' regenerative cells
According to a lawsuit filed by family members in October 2021, Henrietta Lacks’ tumor tissue was removed without consent during a 1951 operation for cervical cancer in a segregated ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Photo by Emw, CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
A biotech company accused of profiting from its unauthorized use of a Black woman’s regenerative cells has settled a lawsuit filed by her family.
Details of the settlement between the family of Henrietta Lacks and Thermo Fisher Scientific are confidential, report the Baltimore Banner, the New York Times, Reuters and the Washington Post. The resolution was announced Tuesday on what would have been Lacks’ 103rd birthday.
According to the suit filed by family members in October 2021, Lacks’ tumor tissue was removed without consent during a 1951 operation for cervical cancer in a segregated ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The tissue became the first human cell line to be reproduced outside the body, helping researchers develop vaccines for polio and COVID-19 and treatment for sickle cell anemia.
Johns Hopkins Hospital has said it didn’t profit from the so-called HeLa cells that it gave away for free. Lacks died despite the operation at age 31.
Thermo Fisher Scientific had sought to dismiss the suit on the ground that Lacks’ family waited too long to sue. The statute-of-limitations argument remained unresolved when the settlement was reached, according to the Washington Post.
A lawyer who represents Lacks’ family members, Benjamin L. Crump, said at the news conference Black women have done much to help build America, according to the Baltimore Banner.
“But everybody in America doesn’t know who Henrietta Lacks is, and that is an injustice,” Crump said. “And that’s why we’re fighting. Because Black history is American history. Henrietta Lacks is American history.”
Another lawyer who represented family members, Christopher Ayers of Seeger Weiss, indicated at a news conference Tuesday that claims could be brought against other companies, according to Baltimore Banner.
“These companies profit today,” Ayers said. “If they can profit today, they can provide compensation today.”