The Lacks family plays a prominent role in advocating for privacy and patient rights. Though the East Baltimore campus has an annual symposium for the community to attend, undergraduates on the Homewood Campus have not yet had the opportunity to engage with the Lacks Family, vital stakeholders in Johns Hopkins’ story of bioethics and patient consent. The Lacks family will address issues of communication, ethics, and race in the context of healthcare.
As descendants of Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks family has been travelling across the country to speak on behalf of their great-grandmother and the immense contributions she has made in the field of cancer research. Ever since the publication and international success of Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks family has been reminding people the importance of Henrietta’s cells as well as issues that Henrietta faced. Some of these issues include the dark history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over informed consent. Often, the Lacks family discusses complicated questions about whether as humans, we control what we are made of, or whether they should share in the profits of what numerous research institutes and facilities have garnered from the discovery and use of their great-grandmother’s cells. Today, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine still holds clones of Henrietta’s cells as key components of cancer research and as the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Henrietta’s cells, also dubbed ‘HeLa Cells’, became one of the most important tools in modern medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.