Earlier this week, Seeger Weiss partners Chris Seeger, Chris Ayers, nationally renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump, and the Family of Henrietta Lacks announced a confidential settlement agreement to resolve a lawsuit seeking compensation for profits from Mrs. Lacks’s stolen cells. A statement released at the time reflected that the parties were pleased to resolve this matter outside of court and would have no further comment about the settlement.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks sought treatment for cervical cancer in a racially segregated ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Doctors at the hospital conducted a medically unnecessary procedure, cutting away parts of Mrs. Lacks’s cervical tissue without her knowledge or consent for medical research. Mrs. Lacks died from her cancer soon after, but her stolen cells survived and reproduced, creating the first immortal human cell line.
Over the following years, HeLa cells became a cornerstone of medical research and drug development, leading to countless scientific advancements and reaping massive profits for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. But Mrs. Lacks’s family remained completely in the dark, not learning about the procedure or the use of her cells until 1973, 22 years after her death. Despite her cells’ unprecedented contributions to science and the billions of dollars generated by medical discoveries using HeLa cells, the Lacks family had long struggled to seek recognition for their mother’s involuntary contribution to modern medicine.
Moving forward, it remains deeply important that the medical community treats all patients with dignity, ensures proper informed consent, and protects individuals’ rights when conducting research. And we reaffirm the broader need to pursue justice where consent has not been rightly sought or granted. Henrietta Lacks’s story has meaning far beyond one individual or institution. We will persist in holding accountable those who do not meet that basic standard, while pushing for greater respect across the board.
Prior results do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome in any future matter.