The WHO respects Henrietta’s absence as the family pursues justice

October 14, 2021 – Henrietta Lax, the black woman whose cells are known without her knowledge of research, was honored this week by the World Health Organization as her family continues to fight to protect her heritage.

The missing cells, known as “HeLa”, are the only known human cells that remain alive and reproduce beyond the human body. When a person dies, his cells usually die shortly thereafter. But its cells have been used for decades in medical discoveries and life-saving treatments.

“In honor of Henrietta Lacks, the WHO recognizes the importance of addressing past scientific injustices and promoting racial equality in health and science,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adanom Gebreyesus, PhD, at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday. . “It’s also an opportunity to recognize women – especially people of color – who have made incredible but often invisible contributions to medical science.”

Lawrence Lax, the 87-year-old son of Henrietta Lax, accepted the award on her behalf.

Seeking justice

The ceremony came just over a week after Henrietta Lax’s family took action against the widespread – and unauthorized – commercial use of HeLa. cells, as well as to seek “ownership” of the cells.

On October 4, the Lacks family estate filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company, for selling HeLa cells in large quantities at a high price – the company earns nearly $ 35 billion in revenue each year – while Lack of a Family never benefited financially, according to the trial.

In 1951, the year doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, cell tissue was cut from Lax’s cervix while she was being treated for cervical cancer, and doctors did not have to ask for permission to take samples.

However, the lawsuit alleges that the multibillion-dollar company continues to generate incredible revenues, even after knowing about origin of HeLa cells.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Thermo Fisher Scientific to “disorient the full amount of its net profits from the commercialization of the HeLa cell line to Henrietta Lacks’ estate.”

HeLa cells are valued at between $ 400 and thousands of dollars per vial, The Wall Street Journal reported.

HeLa cells allow scientists to perform endless tests to improve I understand the human body and what it can do, which led scientists to understand the effects of polio on the body, which helped create the polio vaccine.

HeLa cells were also taken into space to understand the body’s response to zero gravity.

Restoring trust – worldwide

For some, Lacks’ family victory in court turns a controversial page in American history that is fraught with controversy.

“If you think about the context when her cells were taken 70 years ago, what is happening in America with all these ‘medical experiments’ is tantamount to medical racism,” said civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is part of the legal profession. a team representing the Lacks family said at a recent news conference.

One notable example mentioned by Crump is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted between 1932 and the mid-1970s.

Black men with syphilis were told they were being treated when they were actually tested to understand the aggressiveness of the disease. Even after penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis in 1943, the experiment continued and many died as a result.

The consequences of the betrayal can still be felt today against the background of COVID-19 and the efforts for early vaccination. Many blacks have been extremely skeptical about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, with medical mistrust from past events playing an important role, studies show.

“This [lawsuit] “It’s historic, not only because it would benefit her family, but in the end, America can cope with trying to do better, to be better when it comes to medical racism.”

Other nations turn to the racist past through the history of the Lacks.

A life-size bronze statue of Lacks was unveiled at the University of Bristol in England on October 4.

This is the first public sculpture of a black woman made by a black woman in Britain BBC reported.

“Given her legacy as an African-American woman and Bristol’s connection to the slave trade, this is an important statement for Bristol,” said Helen Wilson-Roe, the artist who created it. sculpturesaid at the opening ceremony.

More than 2,000 trips from Africa to America, carrying more than half a million slaves, were funded by Bristol merchants from 1698 to 1807, according to Bristol’s free museums and historic houses.

More than medicine

Lacks’ family victory in court could not only be a justice in the health care system, but black people could be seen as equal players in society, Kramp said.

“Often discussed in the black community, why the Henry Ford family can determine his legacy and take advantage of his legacy, the DuPont family can determine his heritage and to take advantage of his legacy, Rockefeller’s legacy, Kennedy’s legacy … “he said.

“But when it comes to black people, should others determine our heritage and others take advantage of our heritage?”

“We are trying to make sure she is [Lacks’s] the family can benefit future generations, its children and children still unborn. ”

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