A Family Consents to a Medical Gift, 62 Years Later


August 8, 2013

New York Times - Henrietta Lacks was only 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951 in a Baltimore hospital. Not long before her death, doctors removed some of her tumor cells. They later discovered that the cells could thrive in a lab, a feat no human cells had achieved before. Soon the cells, called HeLa cells, were being shipped from Baltimore around the world. In the 62 years since – twice as long as Ms. Lacks's own life – her cells have been the subject of more than 74,000 studies, many of which have yielded profound insights into cell biology, vaccines, in vitro fertilization and cancer. But Henrietta Lacks, who was poor, black and uneducated, never consented to her cells' being studied. For 62 years, her family has been left out of the decision-making about that research. Now, over the past four months, the National Institutes of Health has come to an agreement with the Lacks family to grant them some control over how Henrietta Lacks's genome is used.

New York Times article