On what would have been Henrietta Lacks’ 103rd birthday, justice has finally been served for her family. A settlement has been reached with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biotech company accused of using Henrietta’s cells without her consent in the 1950s to develop and profit from various products.
Henrietta Lacks was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins University when doctors took cells from her tumor without her knowledge. These cells, known as HeLa cells, have remarkable properties that allow them to continuously divide and remain viable outside her body. As a result, HeLa cells have since played a pivotal role in numerous scientific breakthroughs, including research on the human genome, vaccine development, AIDS research, and cancer treatment.
Lacks’ family have long contended that she, along with other Black women, was exploited by a group of white doctors during that era, and they have expressed frustration that her family was never compensated for the use of her genetic material, despite its significant contributions to profitable scientific advancements.
During a recent news conference, the family’s attorney, Ben Crump, emphatically stated, “Not only were the HeLa cells derived from Henrietta Lacks — the HeLa cells are Henrietta Lacks.” He further emphasized that Henrietta was not inferior but rather extraordinary in every way, urging America to acknowledge her remarkable legacy on her birthday.
The terms of the settlement agreement remain confidential, and both Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Lacks family have expressed satisfaction in resolving the matter outside of court. Thermo Fisher Scientific released a statement confirming the settlement but declined to provide further comment on the matter.
Alfred Carter, one of Lacks’ grandsons, spoke passionately at the news conference, declaring the day as one that will be remembered in history. He expressed that it was fitting for justice to be served on Henrietta’s 103rd birthday, bringing relief to her family.
Henrietta Lacks’ life story garnered widespread attention in 2010 through the nonfiction book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” In 2017, a film by the same name was released starring Oprah Winfrey.