HeLa cells: do you own your own body parts?

An immortal cell line finds itself at the centre of a new lawsuit, raising big ethical questions
19 October 2021
Presented by Chris Smith
Production by Cameron Voisey.


HeLa cells - collected originally from cancer patient Henrietta Lacks - growing in culture.


A form of cultured cell, known as a HeLa cell, is at the centre of a lawsuit that is being brought against a large scientific company that uses these cells. HeLa cells are named after the person they were collected from originally, Henrietta Lacks. They are an “immortal” cell line that grows continuously in the culture dish. This means that the cells that exist today stem directly from Henrietta Lacks’ original cell sample, which was taken back in 1951. The use of these cells today raises ethical questions, because Henrietta Lacks did not give consent for them to be collected or used. The case has been filed based on the fact that the company in question has continued to reproduce and sell HeLa cells for monetary gain since, which the Lacks’ family have not received a share of. Cameron Voisey caught up with the story, speaking with non-practising barrister Rosalind English...


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