Attorney Christina Bostick with Lawrence Lacks, Sr. in front of a picture of his mother, now known as the Mother of Modern Medicine, Henrietta Lacks.
The Bostick Law Office welcomes Lawrence Lacks, Sr., his son, Ron Lacks, and several members of the Lacks family, who are representatives and beneficiaries of the Estate of Henrietta Lacks, as its newest clients. Christina Bostick, senior legal counsel for the Lacks family said, “What I deem the Henrietta Lacks conundrum is not only a legal problem, but one of social justice and human rights.” Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used—without permission— since the early 1950s, when the mother of five died of cervical cancer in the then-segregated Johns Hopkins Hospital. Since Mrs. Lacks passing, her cells have been used for major medical breakthroughs, such as pioneering work in the field of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and Herpes. While Mrs. Lacks and her cells have been praised for all their contributions to science, only corporations have profited from her body while the human beings directly tied to her DNA—her decedents—have been used as mere figureheads for those enterprises instead of the true beneficiaries of their matriarch’s selfless and transformational contribution to the world. Attorney Bostick said, “Henrietta Lacks deserves, not just to be passively honored, but actively compensated.
Henrietta Lacks circa 1945–1951.
In the last ten years, a keen interest in Henrietta Lacks has grown in the popular culture realm, including a 2010 New York Times Bestseller that was adapted for an HBO film by Oprah Winfrey in April 2017 and, most recently, the unveiling of her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. Though Mrs. Lacks has become somewhat of a posthumous celebrity, her fame has been used to promote politicians, medical institutions, and profit-bearing academia without including genuine consideration for what Mrs. Lacks would have wanted her legacy to be or how she would have wanted her family to prosper from the blessing of her body.
Although several attorneys have looked at the case, the case has been stuck in limbo because the statute of limitations bars personal injury claims that have not been brought within three years of discovery. In this case, it has been seventy years since the misappropriation of Mrs. Lacks’ cells, although the date of discovery is not concrete. “People don’t generally think about creative lawyering as an art, but it is one,” said Attorney Bostick. “Where justice must be served, there is always a way to secure it—that’s what makes America unique. If history has proven anything, it is that we can rely on our unique perspective as African-Americans to interpret and argue against injustice. This is not a new fight—black bodies have been exploited for science for centuries, but with some legal ingenuity we can believe in the possibility of change.”