The family of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent in 1951, has reached a settlement with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a science and technology company that used those cells to develop products that it later sold for a profit.
The settlement, which was announced on Tuesday, is confidential, but the Lacks family’s attorneys said that it includes financial compensation and a commitment from Thermo Fisher Scientific to educate the public about the Lacks family’s story and to develop a research fund to support research on diseases that disproportionately affect Black people.
“This settlement is a victory for the Lacks family and for all people who have been harmed by the misuse of their genetic information,” said Ben Crump, one of the Lacks family’s attorneys. “It sends a message that people have the right to control their own genetic material and that companies cannot profit from the exploitation of others.”
Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old Black woman from Baltimore, Maryland, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. While she was being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, doctors removed cells from her tumor without her knowledge or consent. These cells, which became known as HeLa cells, were found to be immortal, meaning that they could be grown indefinitely in a laboratory.
HeLa cells have been used in countless scientific studies and have led to numerous medical breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and the treatment of HIV/AIDS. However, the Lacks family was never compensated for the use of their mother’s cells, and they were not even aware of their existence until many years after her death.
The Lacks family’s lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific was filed in 2018. The lawsuit alleged that Thermo Fisher Scientific had violated the Lacks family’s privacy rights and had profited from the exploitation of their mother’s cells.
The settlement of the lawsuit is a significant victory for the Lacks family and for all people who have been harmed by the misuse of their genetic information. It is also a reminder of the importance of informed consent and the need for companies to be held accountable for their actions.