Cummings Introduces Resolution Honoring Henrietta Lacks

March 14, 2016
Press Release
For More Than Six Decades, Lacks’ Tumor Cells Have Been Used By Researchers in Some of Medicine’s Most Important Breakthroughs

Washington, D.C. (March 14, 2016) — Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) introduced a resolution honoring Henrietta Lacks for her contributions to medical research.

“There will never be another Henrietta Lacks. This phenomenal woman left a legacy of generosity and humility with her contributions to medicine and her family,” Congressman Cummings said. “I am proud to introduce this resolution today to recognize Mrs. Lacks’ life and acknowledge her remarkable place in history. Her immortal cells have been instrumental to medical breakthroughs ranging from development of the polio vaccine to treatments for HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease, improving the quality of life of millions of people around the world.”

“The Lacks family is honored and grateful to pay tribute to our beloved Henrietta Lacks for Women’s History month. She is among the many women who have shaped both history and the future,” said Victoria Baptiste, the great granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks. “She was a medical whisper, unknowingly contributing to science that has made the impossible possible. We are delighted that now her story is being shouted to the world.”

Lacks, an African-American woman, died of cervical cancer in 1951. For more than six decades, her cells have been used by medical researchers in some of medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine, along with treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. 

This evening, at 5:00pm in room 485 of the Russell Senate Office Building, Cummings will deliver remarks at a reception hosted by the Susan G. Komen Foundation honoring Lacks’ contribution to medical research.

The resolution is cosponsored by Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Danny Davis (D-IL), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), John Delaney (D-MD), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Tim Ryan (D-OH), and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA).

Click here for a PDF of the resolution. The full text follows:

Recognizing the Life and Legacy of Henrietta Lacks in Honor of Women's History Month.

Whereas, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia, was raised by her grandfather on a tobacco farm in Clover, Virginia; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks married David “Day” Lacks in 1941 in Halifax County, Virginia, and later moved to the Baltimore County, Maryland community of Turner Station, to build a life for themselves and their five children: Lawrence, Elsie, David, Deborah and Joseph (Zakariyya); 
 
Whereas, in 1951 Henrietta Lacks at the age of 31 was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and despite receiving painful radium treatments, passed away on October 4, 1951; 
 
Whereas, medical researchers took samples of Henrietta Lacks’ tumor during her treatment and the HeLa cell line from her tumor proved remarkably resilient; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks died eight months after her cancer diagnosis, leaving behind her children, husband and her “immortal cells” that would change the world; 
 
Whereas, HeLa cells were the first immortal line of human cells, doubling every 24 hours, dividing and replenishing indefinitely in a laboratory, and successfully growing outside of the human body for longer than 36 hours; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks’ cells were unique, growing by the millions, commercialized and distributed worldwide to researchers, resulting in advances in medicine; 
 
Whereas, the advances made possible by Henrietta Lacks’ cells and the revenues they generated were not known to her family for more than twenty years;
Whereas, an estimated 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world to become the subject of more than 74,000 studies; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks' prolific cells continue to grow and contribute to remarkable advances in medicine, including the development of the polio vaccine, as well as drugs for treating the effects of cancer, HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, leukemia, and Parkinson's disease; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks’ cells have been used in research that has contributed to our understanding of the effects of radiation and zero gravity on human cells;

Whereas, Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells have informed research on chromosomal conditions, cancer, gene mapping, and precision medicine;

Whereas, Henrietta Lacks’ legacy has been recognized around the world through memorials, conferences, museum exhibitions, libraries, print and visual media; 
 
Whereas, Henrietta Lacks and her family’s experience is fundamental to modern bioethics policies and informed consent laws that benefit patients nationwide by building patient trust and protecting research participants; 
 
Whereas, the Lacks family entered a groundbreaking, HeLa Genome Data Use Agreement in 2013 with the medical, scientific, and bioethics communities, giving them a role in regulating the HeLa genome sequences and discoveries; 
 
Whereas, Women’s History Month is celebrated in March to pay tribute to the many contributions women have made to the American experience;

Whereas, Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells have made a significant contribution to global health, scientific research, quality of life, and patient rights;

Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives during Women’s History month:

     (1) celebrates the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who unknowingly changed the face of medical science, contributing to lasting, worldwide improvements in health;
     (2) honors Henrietta Lacks as a hero of modern medicine for her contributions to the medical discoveries resulting from her HeLa cells, which helped make possible some of the most important medical advances of the last century; and
     (3) recognizes Henrietta Lacks’ legacy, which has contributed to developments in bioethics and patient rights that benefit all Americans.