Ron Lacks, the grandson of Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old Black woman who had her body tissue stolen in the 1950s and eventually became a cornerstone of modern medicine, said his family has been struggling for decades to reclaim his grandmother’s heritage. Along with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, the family filed their first federal lawsuit on Monday, which they told The Daily Beast will hopefully give them the sense of ownership they’ve always sought.
During Lacks’ treatment at John Hopkins Hospital in 1951, white doctors took a tissue from her malignant tumor without her knowledge. “We’re just trying to take back control of Henrietta’s legacy,” Ron Lacks told The Daily Beast. “Everyone has been benefiting from Henrietta’s cells except for her family.” Doctors transformed the cells into a miracle cell line used worldwide to test new medicines and viruses after they discovered they were reproducing and living outside of her body.
Despite widespread awareness of how Lacks’ cells were stolen in the first place, the corporation has continued to make a “conscious choice to market and mass create” Lacks’ tissue, according to the lawsuit. In addition, despite the company’s massive revenue—more than $30 billion every year, according to their website—the suit claims that “Ms. Lacks’ Estate and family haven’t seen a dollar.”