The family of Henrietta Lacks have retained two attorneys who will pursue justice for the unauthorized use of Lacks’ cells in medical research.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss announced Thursday (July 29) that they have been retained by the family of Henrietta Lacks, ahead of what would have been Lacks’ 101st birthday on Sunday (August 1).
Lacks died in 1951, at the age of 31, from cervical cancer. Prior to her death, doctors from Johns Hopkins Hospital gave samples of her cancerous cells to researchers, without her or her family’s consent. Lacks’ cells, now known as HeLa Cells, went on to be the first human cells to be successfully cloned.
According to a statement from Crump, Lacks’ immortal cells have been used continually for research into multiple breakthroughs in medicine, including vaccines, cancer treatments, AIDS treatments, and in vitro fertilization. The statement says that these advances have lined the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and executives.
“The American pharmaceutical community has a shameful history of profiting off research at the expense of Black people without their knowledge, consent, or benefit, leading to mass profits for pharmaceutical companies from our illnesses and our very bodies. There is no clearer example of this than Henrietta Lacks and the seemingly endless manipulation of her genetic material,” Crump said.
He continued, “The pharmaceutical companies have been unjustly enriched by this unethical taking of her cells, while Henrietta Lacks’ family has never been afforded any equity.”
“Henrietta’s cells have been monetized by big pharmaceutical companies for decades. While vaccines may save lives, these companies have profited from the ill-gotten genetic material of Mrs. Lacks, taken without her permission. It's simply not right and we intend to hold them accountable,” said Seeger
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