By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO Contributing Editor,
On what would have been Henrietta Lacks 103rd birthday, Aug. 1, civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced an undisclosed settlement had been reached with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a major biomedical firm headquartered in Waltham, Mass. and the family.
“I can think of no better present on what would have been Henrietta Lacks’ 103 birthday than to give some measure of respect for Henrietta Lacks,” Crump said at a press conference and celebration to announce that terms for a settlement had been reached.
The terms of the settlement will remain private, according to a joint statement between Thermo Fisher and attorneys for the Lacks family. Both parties said they were pleased with the way the matter had been settled.
Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken from her cervix without consent or knowledge by Dr. George Gey at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. Gey soon discovered that while other human cells died over a period of time when taken out of the body, Lacks’ cells “miraculously” multiplied. The cells were made available to pharmaceutical firms and researchers.
Henrietta Lacks’ family was not originally made aware that her cells were kept by Johns Hopkins Hospital or that agreements were made with pharmaceutical companies and researchers for use. Lacks’ family learned of the cells by chance in the mid-70s.
Thousands of pharmaceutical companies, universities and research firms own and to this day use “HeLa” cells for a range of major medical and commercial advances. HeLa cells have been used to develop vaccines that eradicate polio. Other uses include genome mapping and the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But her family has never received a dime for these life changing advances – until now.
“Any and everybody…benefitted from the HeLa cell,” said Kimberly Lacks, granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks, at the Aug. 1 press conference and celebration.
The Lacks family, along with Crump, announced the lawsuit against Thermo Fisher in October of 2021, at the federal courthouse in Baltimore.
All-day, closed door negotiations ensued on July 31 of this year before the two sides announced they had come to an agreement, with the details remaining private.
“Today on her 103rd birthday, we got justice,” said Alfred Lacks-Carter Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks. “Her legacy is in good hands, our family is standing together in solidarity, to push forward. We’re going to keep making sure Henrietta never dies just as her HeLa cells never die,” said Lacks-Carter.
Lacks, originally from rural Virginia, was a mother of five when she developed cervical cancer. A bi-partisan bill to posthumously award Lacks the Congressional Gold Medal was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Ben Cardin (D-MD-3) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD-7) introduced the measure in the House earlier this summer.