The Lacks Fam­ily de­serves what is right­fully theirs

The Dundalk Eagle - - BY THE PEOPLE - By DEVON BROWN

I con­sider it to be both necessary and ap­pro­pri­ate to con­vey to you my frus­tra­tion as well as acute cha­grin in learn­ing that among the mul­ti­tude of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies only two have fi­nally at­tempted to pro­vide eco­nomic ac­knowl­edge­ment of the im­mea­sur­able con­tri­bu­tions made by Hen­ri­etta Lacks to­wards the fur­ther­ance of hu­mankind.

While it is at first glance grat­i­fy­ing that the re­search com­mu­nity has at long last paid homage to the im­mense debt it owes to HeLa cells, I am none­the­less out­raged by the mea­ger na­ture of the “repa­ra­tions” that have been ex­tended.

Fur­ther­more, that these funds, su­per­fi­cial as they are, were di­rected to the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Foun­da­tion rather to its coun­ter­part, the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Legacy Group, is highly sus­pect inas­much as the for­mer was cre­ated and is greatly in­flu­enced by Re­becca Sk­loot, a white fe­male, and the lat­ter is mainly com­prised of peo­ple of color, many of whom are the di­rect de­scen­dants of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name sake.

This ob­ser­va­tion is in no man­ner in­tended to cast as­per­sion upon Ms. Sk­loot as she war­rants high praise for bring­ing world­wide at­ten­tion to the life of Hen­ri­etta Lacks and to the dis­cov­ery as well as unique im­por­tance of HeLa cells.

How­ever, Ms. Sk­loot has vastly ben­e­fited from her ac­com­plish­ments and is cur­rently re­ceiv­ing sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial re­ward and per­sonal renown for the ex­cel­lence of her book and other un­der­tak­ings re­lated to the Hen­ri­etta Lacks saga.

This sit­u­a­tion is enor­mously in­con­gru­ent, if not un­con­scionable, when one re­al­izes that the Lacks fam­ily has yet to reap a frac­tion of the mam­moth profit gen­er­ated from the com­mer­cial use of the HeLa cell.

Of equal con­cern is the tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment of the “repa­ra­tions.” As you are well aware, the uni­verse is anx­iously await­ing the creation of a vac­cine that will mit­i­gate if not ex­tin­guish the cat­a­strophic ef­fects of the COVID-19 virus.

It is not un­rea­son­able to be­lieve that HeLa cells are play­ing a vi­tal role in the de­vel­op­ment of this highly sought-af­ter med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion just as it did in the cure of Po­lio.

With this re­al­ity in mind, the fi­nan­cial wealth that will be pro­duced for the en­tity hold­ing the patent to the sub­stance lead­ing to the cur­tail­ment of the cur­rent pandemic will be beyond com­pre­hen­sion.

Might, just might the to­ken at­tempts at repa­ra­tion that we have wit­nessed be in ac­tu­al­ity a fee­ble ef­fort to de­flect at­ten­tion from the over­whelm­ing wind­falls that are about to un­fold for cer­tain phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies while shield­ing these en­ter­prises from pub­lic dis­re­pute for not hav­ing prop­erly rec­og­nized the in­stru­men­tal con­tri­bu­tions of Hen­ri­etta Lacks in this achieve­ment.

More­over, fear that do­ing so through the in­clu­sion of a rea­son­able mon­e­tary award to her fam­ily might im­mi­nently un­lock the door, legally bar­ring, their quest to ob­tain just com­pen­sa­tion for the profits gleaned from the com­mer­cial use of the HeLa cell through­out the years.

Com­bined, these cir­cum­stances could be in truth the un­der­ly­ing fac­tors dic­tat­ing the size, scope, and re­cip­i­ents of the an­nounced rec­om­pense.

Two well-es­tab­lished apho­risms may well be apro­pos, to wit, “all that glit­ters is not gold” and “be­ware Greeks bear­ing gifts.” Both speak of de­cep­tion as well as the need for cau­tion and close ex­am­i­na­tion of be­stow­ments which ini­tially ap­pear to be of value.

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