‘What makes Black our bodies much less helpful’: Henrietta Lacks property sues firm nonetheless utilizing her cells
Lacks’ cells were harvested years before there was a process of acquiring consent and that process was applied to Black people. At dispute is whether Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company named in the lawsuit, can maintain the intellectual rights of products created using Lacks’ cells without her consent.
The company has continued to commercialize research stemming from Lacks’ cells after gaining knowledge of the cells’ origin, the AP reported. Attorneys in the suit requested an order requiring Thermo Fisher Scientific to “disgorge the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks.” They are also seeking to have the billion-dollar company “permanently enjoined from using HeLa cells without the estate’s permission.”
The National Institutes of Health reached an agreement with the Lacks family in 2013 “to allow biomedical researchers controlled access to the whole genome data of cells derived from her tumor, commonly known as HeLa cells,” the agency said in a news release, announcing the news only eight years ago. “Just like their matriarch, the Lacks family continues to have a significant impact on medical progress by providing access to an important scientific tool that researchers will use to study the cause and effect of many diseases with the goal of developing treatments,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in the release.
The family said in July that it had hired Crump to look into lawsuits against up to 100 defendants, mainly pharmaceutical companies, according to The Baltimore Sun. Seeger told the newspaper it’s unclear whether Hopkins will be named as a defendant or witness. “Black people have the right to control their bodies,” he said. “And yet Thermo Fisher Scientific treats Henrietta Lacks’ living cells as chattel to be bought and sold.” Parker added that Lacks’ cell line has given root to “whole industries.”
“It’s unconscionable that they continue to dismiss Black bodies, and Henrietta Lacks unfortunately is only one of many that has been subject to this type of dismissive, abusive treatment,” Parker said. “What makes Black bodies less valuable than any other life? Why is it that Henrietta Lacks’ life is of no value?”