The family of Henrietta Lacks has settled a lawsuit in the United States against a biotechnology company accused of reaping millions of dollars in profit from the use of her cells.
They were the first human cells to continuously grow and reproduce in lab dishes, making them pivotal for modern medical research. Their longevity allowed for the creation of vaccines for polio and later COVID-19, as well as experiments in genetic mapping.But the cells were collected from Lacks, a Black woman, without her knowledge as she sought treatment for cervical cancer in 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She would die later that year.
The non-consensual harvesting of the cells was not illegal at the time. But in a lawsuit filed in 2021, Lacks’s family argued that the biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc has continued to profit from her cells in the decades since, including through their sale.
The family did not receive any money from those business ventures. The lawsuit was brought by her grandchildren and other descendants.
“Black suffering has fueled innumerable medical progress and profit, without just compensation or recognition,” the lawsuit said. “Too often, the history of medical experimentation in the United States has been the history of medical racism.”In a joint statement on Monday, Thermo Fisher representatives and lawyers for the Lacks family said, “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.”