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Henrietta Lacks’ Family Reaches Settlement Over “Immortal” Cells Harvested Without Consent

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Henrietta Lacks: YourGenome

The family of Henrietta Lacks recently settled with Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a Massachusetts-based biotech business. Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, had her cervical cells taken without her knowledge in 1951, which were later duplicated for medical research. These cells, known as “HeLa,” have contributed significantly to medical sciences, advancing research in polio vaccinations, HIV, cancer, and infertility worldwide. While the settlement’s details remain undisclosed to the public, her family has long sought justice for the unauthorized use of her cells.


Henrietta Lacks’ story has immense scientific impact, with her “immortal” cells opening new frontiers in medical research. Despite her unwitting contribution, using her cells without consent raises ethical questions and concerns about consent and exploitation. The Lacks family’s struggle for compensation and acknowledgment highlights the need to balance the advantages of medical advancements and address the moral implications of informed consent.
Thermo Fisher attempted to have the case dismissed, citing the statute of limitations. However, the Lacks family argues that the rule should reset with each commercial use of the cells as they continue to multiply and contribute to ongoing research.


This case also draws attention to the issue of medical racism. Henrietta Lacks’ experience underscores the importance of ensuring fair and equal care for all patients, regardless of their background, while addressing historical injustices within the medical profession.
As we continue to benefit from groundbreaking medical discoveries enabled by HeLa cells, reflecting on the ethical implications of using individuals’ biological material without their knowledge or consent is crucial. By acknowledging and learning from past injustices, the medical community can strive toward a more equitable and responsible approach to medical research and patient care.

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