The estate of Henrietta Lacks is filing a lawsuit against a biotech company that, they claim, is using stolen HeLa cells without the permission of the estate.
According to HuffPost, the Lacks estate is claiming that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, MA, is profiting commercially off of the HeLa cells, and they’ve done so well after the origin of the cells became well-known.
“It is outrageous that this company would think that they have intellectual rights property to their grandmother’s cells,” said Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys for the Henrietta Lacks estate, at a press conference on Oct. 4. “Why is it they have intellectual rights to her cells and can benefit billions of dollars when her family, her flesh and blood, her Black children, get nothing?”
Lacks was first brought to the attention of the world thanks to the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was subsequently made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. According to the book, Lacks — who died in 1951 of cervical cancer — has her cells harvested without her (or her family’s) knowledge or consent. Though the cells were harvested long before modern medical consent laws were passed, they’ve been reproduced infinitely ever since. And to this day, society benefits from the advances developed from the so-called “HeLa” line of cells — everything from the polio vaccine to genetic mapping and even COVID-19 vaccines have been developed thanks to HeLa cells.
Yet, the estate of Henrietta Lacks has not received one penny for their ancestor’s contributions — and this is a wrong that Crump, and the team of attorneys representing the Lacks estate, hope to correct immediately.
“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the unfortunately common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history,” the suit says, according to HuffPost. “Indeed, Black suffering has fueled innumerable medical progress and profit, without just compensation or recognition. Various studies, both documented and undocumented, have thrived off the dehumanization of Black people.”