‘Henrietta Lacks’ Family Secures Historic Settlement with Thermo Fisher Scientific Over “HeLa” Cells

By Joseph-Charles Peeples-Hampton

Staff Writer | The Metro Scoop Student Newspaper | August 4, 2023

PORTRAIT OF HENRIETTA LACKS – Painting source: Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – A seismic shift in the fight for justice and recognition has occurred as Henrietta Lacks’ living relatives triumphantly reach a groundbreaking confidential settlement with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biotech giant that has long profited from her immortal “HeLa” cells. The revelation, unveiled on Lacks’ 103rd birthday, marks a resounding victory and sets an indomitable precedent for future claims seeking rightful compensation and control of her invaluable genetic legacy.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Chris Seeger, revered for their unwavering pursuit of justice, stood at the forefront, wielding their legal prowess in defense of the Lacks family. In a powerful and poignant display, they called for a momentous news conference in Baltimore, Maryland, capturing the world’s attention as they unveiled the transformative resolution that reverberates far beyond the courtroom’s confines.

The family’s fervent lawsuit confronted an age-old injustice, a dark legacy that endured since Henrietta Lacks’ cells were surreptitiously harvested during her battle with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Standing firm in their conviction, the Lacks family demanded restitution, firmly asserting that her cells, deemed indispensable in scientific breakthroughs, rightfully belong to them, and not to be exploited without consent by corporate interests like Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Ben Crump passionately and unequivocally underscored the racial justice implications of the case, stating, “Henrietta’s story epitomizes the enduring struggle for equality and respect that Black Americans have faced. Her descendants should reap the benefits of her enduring legacy, just as the world has.”

Amidst the legal battle, Thermo Fisher Scientific attempted to fend off accountability, arguing that the Lacks family delayed legal action and that countless entities worldwide also exploited HeLa cells without consent, exposing the pervasive injustice within the scientific community.

Henrietta Lacks’ extraordinary cells, unknowingly extracted following her untimely passing in 1951, stand as an everlasting testament to her resilience and enduring impact on humanity. These cells, instrumental in eradicating polio, unlocking the secrets of COVID-19, and revolutionizing medical treatments, have benefited millions worldwide, yet her legacy remained largely obscured.

In a gesture of recognition and reparation, Maryland Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, joined by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, has introduced legislation to honor Lacks with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal, an accolade befitting her immense contributions to science and humanity.”