Medical Justice after 62 Years
As a medical malpractice attorney, I’m constantly watching medical newswires for any pertinent information my clients should know. Occasionally, I come across a story of justice and retribution that I must pass along.
The New York Times shared just such a case recently, as a family was granted the medical rights they deserve—sixty-two years later.
Henrietta Lacks was thirty-one years old when she passed away from cervical cancer in 1951. After her death, physicians removed some of her tumor cells. They later discovered that the cells could thrive in a lab environment, something no human cell had ever done before.
In the past sixty-two years, Lacks’s cells have been the subject of over seventy-four thousand studies, many revealing profound insights into cell biology, vaccines, cancer, and in vitro fertilization.
However, Lacks never consented to her cells being studied. For the past sixty-two years, her family did not have any say in how her cells were used. Lacks’s family first found out that her cells were being used by researchers worldwide in 1973, when a scientist called to ask for blood samples from her children.
Some family members dug for more information, and some wanted a portion of the profits from research on Lacks’s cells. They were wrongfully ignored.
In recent months, the National Institute of Health has come to an agreement with the Lacks family, granting them some control on how her genome is used.
The agreement doesn’t provide the family with the right to potential earnings from future research on her genome but is still a huge victory for the family.