Lacks v. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.—
An Extraordinary Event from More than 70 Years Ago
That Led to a Lawsuit, Resulting in a Settlement

September 27, 2023By: Veronique Li Download PDF

The recent settlement agreement between Ron L. Lacks,
grandson of Henrietta Lacks and executor of Ms. Lacks’
estate, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., one of the largest
life science companies in the world, came about after tissue
from Ms. Lacks was surgically removed more than 70 years ago
without her knowledge or consent.

Would this unprecedented settlement have happened if not for
the publicity generated by Rebecca Skloot and her 2010 best-selling
book The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks,1 which became the
subject behind the 2017 HBO adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey?
And what does the complaint, filed by the estate of Ms. Lacks,
mean for other entities that have similarly benefited from the
HeLa cell line, so named using the first letters of Ms. Lacks’ first
and last names? What are the broader implications of this case?
This article explores those questions.

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