Some 70 years ago (the anniversary was yesterday) a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks arrived at John Hopkins in dire need of medical care after learning that she had cervical cancer. During that time, it was regular for medical professionals to treat Black people as less and without the advent of consent forms — most were powerless in their quest for fairness.
Lacks died in 1951 after losing her battle with cervical cancer but what followed after that is perhaps any person especially a Black persons’ worst nightmare. Medical officials at the time stole her cells without her knowledge which eventually became known as the HeLo cell line — a collection and lineage of cells that is now used today in modern medicine. They’re used in part because they have extraordinary characteristics that helped them become the first human cells ever fully cloned.
Her cells reportedly went on to help in the fight against polio vaccine, genetic mapping and even COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is outrageous that this company would think that they have intellectual rights property to their grandmother’s cells. 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?” one of the family’s attorneys, Ben Crump, said Monday.
It’s frightening to think that at one point human cells could be taken from someone without their consent but the medical company currently commercializing Lacks’ cells and more must answer for their wrongs. Lacks’ descendants today maintain that they have not seen a dime of the revenue from those sales and are asking a judge to halt any further commercialization of the woman’s cell line.