Seventy years ago, a young Black woman’s cells became the first immortal cell line, leading to the creation of vaccinations and other scientific breakthroughs that have benefited the medical community and society at-large. Dubbed the HeLa cells, they were taken from Mrs. Henrietta Lacks without her consent. Some might think that the sacrifice that she made was worth it, but that is not our right to decide.

Henrietta Lacks’ family has struggled for decades since her passing while companies, like Thermo Fisher Scientific, based in Massachusetts, currently produce and sell products derived from HeLa cells, charging upwards of two thousand dollars per unit. One of her descendants, Ron Lacks, stated in his book, “The pharmaceutical executive’s children will be rich and well off from Henrietta’s cells, but my family has to struggle because of it? It’s not right.”

He is completely correct. The Lacks family has gone this long without the financial restitution that they deserve. But a recent legal case threatens to shine a spotlight on Thermo Fisher and other pharmaceutical companies that have been unjustly enriched by their theft of Henrietta Lacks body, and importantly, provide justice to the Lacks family that has taken far too long for them to achieve.

This legal fight raises a larger debate about how pharmaceutical companies — built upon the body of Henrietta Lacks — should reconsider their role and restore her humanity that was stripped away.

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