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The cells of Henrietta Lacks made medical history, obtaining them wasn’t wrong | READER COMMENTARY

Kimberley Lacks, left, with attorney Ben Crump and other Lacks family members, speaks at a news conference outside the Edward A. Garmatz U. S. District Courthouse where the family announced the filing of a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., a multibillion-dollar biotechnology corporation, on behalf of the estate of Henrietta Lacks. Oct. 4, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).
Kimberley Lacks, left, with attorney Ben Crump and other Lacks family members, speaks at a news conference outside the Edward A. Garmatz U. S. District Courthouse where the family announced the filing of a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., a multibillion-dollar biotechnology corporation, on behalf of the estate of Henrietta Lacks. Oct. 4, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun). (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Henrietta Lacks died a miserable death from a horrible cancer. The injustices and inequity of her life and ongoing racism in the United States and around the world are inexcusable and must be fought with every fiber of our being. Despite these truths and contrary to the comments by Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, nothing wrong was done to Henrietta Lacks in the use of discarded tissue from her tumor to make “HeLa” cells (”Family of Henrietta Lacks files suit against biotech company for using famous ‘HeLa’ cells without permission,” Oct. 4).

Use of discarded tissue for research is done routinely and is a part of the routine clinical consent for surgery now. Whether that was the case in 1950, I do not know (The Sun article says it wasn’t standard practice). What we do know is that her discarded tissue, along with that of many others of varied ancestry and socioeconomic status, was being used in experiments to try to establish immortal cells. The miracle and her gift to the world is that her cells were, and still are, immortal. They have been used to benefit humanity since their creation, but no funds were collected for their generation or distribution for decades.

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The failure to establish a decent and just health care system in the U.S. and elsewhere is not the fault of the scientists who established HeLa cells, and nothing was denied to Henrietta Lacks by the use of discarded tissue. The benefits and knowledge gained from the use of HeLa cells should benefit everyone, equally, around the world.

Ada Hamosh, Towson

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