The family of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were unlawfully used to make groundbreaking discoveries in medicine and science, have reached a private settlement deal with the biotech company, Thermo Fisher Scientific.
According to CBS News, on July 31, after hours of negotiation, Lacks’ family reached a confidential settlement with the biotech giant who they accused of profiting off of the late 31-year-old’s miraculous HeLa Cells.
The family of Lacks scored a major victory at the federal courthouse in Baltimore. According to the report, some of Lack’s grandchildren were present when the legal win was announced.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the family, said they were “pleased’ with the outcome. “The parties are pleased that they were able to find a way to resolve this matter outside of Court and will have no further comment about the settlement,” the civil rights attorney said in a statement.
Lacks’ incredible HeLa Cells were harvested in 1951 after she visited John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for cervical cancer treatment.
After they were removed from her body, doctors discovered that the 31-year-old mother’s cells doubled every 20 to 24 hours in the lab. Lacks did not permit John Hopkins to use her cells.
The Virginia native died in 1951, but her unique cells went on to make a number of groundbreaking medical advancements like the polio vaccine and treatments for cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Lacks’ family was unaware of John Hopkins’ unlawful medical practice until decades later.
In 2021, the Lacks family filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher, arguing that the company continued to profit off the “unlawful conduct” of John Hopkins Hospital by selling and mass-producing Lacks’ living cell tissue.
The family claimed that the company made “a conscious choice to sell and mass produce the living tissue of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, grandmother, and community leader, despite the corporation’s knowledge that Ms. Lacks’ tissue was taken from her without her consent by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a racially unjust medical system,” CNN noted. According to the lawsuit, there are at least 12 products marketed by Thermo Fisher that include the HeLa cell line.
On August 1, Lacks’ family joined Crump at Baltimore’s waterfront to celebrate the big victory. Tuesday would have been the titan’s 103rd birthday. The family brought balloons and a cake to celebrate the big occasion.
“We did it — and what a birthday present today,” Crump said during a press conference Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. Lacks’ grandson, Alfred Lacks Carter Jr., echoed similar sentiments. “There couldn’t have been a more fitting day for her to have justice, for her family to have relief,” Carter said. “It was a long fight — over 70 years — and Henrietta Lacks gets her day.”
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