Why This Black Woman's Story Will Literally Never End

Henrietta Lacks
Leslie Taylor-Grover
October 4, 2021

Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer from Virginia who died of aggressive cervical cancer on October 4, 1951. But it wasn’t her life that made medical history. It was after her death.

When she died, doctors harvested her cancer cells at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital without her consent or her family’s knowledge. But this theft was just the beginning. Her cells were the centerpiece of some of the most notable moments in medical history. Why were they so special?

When other cells died in the lab, Lack’s actually doubled. This was unheard of! Her cells, nicknamed “HeLa,” were special. They were used to develop the AIDS treatment, the polio vaccine, treatments for hemophilia, herpes, influenza and leukemia, and in-vitro fertilization. In other words, her cells are responsible for saving lives! So where’s the problem?

Lacks and her family NEVER benefited from the thousands of patents and BILLIONS of dollars her cells helped generate. Many of her family members couldn’t even afford basic health insurance, let alone profit from their bloodline! It was 2013 before they even had a say in how her cells were used.

Lack’s story exemplifies the medical community’s exploitation of our people, including the fact that Lack’s family was disregarded in the beginning. This story inspires us to be vigilant in demanding ethical treatment and respect from the medical and scientific community.

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