Henrietta Lacks: Woman’s Living Cells Were Mass-Produced And Sold By A Big Pharma, Now Her Family Is Seeking Justice

by Gee NY
Henrietta Lacks did not know her cells would go toward research. Image: Courtesy the Lacks Family

In a significant legal development, a U.S. District Judge has denied Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical Inc.’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Henrietta Lacks.

The pharmaceutical company is accused of selling and mass-producing Lacks’ living tissue without consent, a practice rooted in a broader historical context of unethical medical exploitation of Black women.

The lawsuit, represented by prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss, alleges that Ultragenyx profited from Lacks’ tissue, despite knowing it was taken without her consent by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s.

This tissue, known as HeLa cells, has been invaluable in scientific research and commercialized extensively, raising ethical questions about consent and compensation.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman expressed the plausibility of the family’s claims, stating:

“If what Lacks alleges is true, it is plausible that Ultragenyx is liable to Lacks for unjust enrichment. For the reasons explained in this opinion, Ultragenyx’s motion to dismiss is denied.”

The decision marks a crucial step in the Lacks family’s pursuit of justice and acknowledgment of the wrongs done to Henrietta Lacks.

The attorneys, Crump and Seeger, expressed the family’s gratitude for the ruling, viewing it as a pivotal moment to address historical injustices. They called upon Ultragenyx and the broader pharmaceutical industry to engage in resolving the case.

“The family of Henrietta Lacks is grateful for the judge’s important decision to deny Ultragenyx’s baseless motion to dismiss the case and allow the lawsuit to move forward,” said Crump and Seeger in a joint statement. “This historic ruling is not only a victory for Henrietta Lacks’ family; it presents an opportunity to correct a monumental wrong. We invite Big Pharma to the table to resolve this on behalf of Henrietta Lacks’ family.”

Henrietta Lacks’ HeLa cells have contributed immensely to scientific advancements, yet her story underscores the necessity of addressing past abuses and ensuring equitable treatment in medical practices.

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