WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen joined Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and John Delaney (all D-MD) in introducing a resolution honoring Henrietta Lacks for her contributions to medical research as part of Women’s History Month.
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.
“Some people’s contributions are measured by the number of lives they touched, and others by lives they saved. You can measure the contributions of Henrietta Lacks in both ways, and the totals will continue to increase far into the future, as more and more families are spared the loss of their loved ones owing to the medical advances that Ms. Lacks’ cells enabled,” said Senator Cardin. “Women’s history is American history, which is why I am proud to join with my colleagues during this Women’s History Month to celebrate the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks.”
“This resolution recognizes Henrietta Lacks for the lifesaving contributions her unique cells have made for medical research and millions of people across the world,” Senator Van Hollen said. “Mrs. Lacks’ cells have been one of the most vital tools in developing treatments and cures for many diseases, from polio to Parkinson’s disease. For too long her story went untold, and I’m honored to highlight her important contribution.”
“I am proud to introduce this resolution to honor Henrietta Lacks’ contributions to medicine and to the world,” Congressman Cummings said. “I look forward to more Americans learning about the key role Mrs. Lacks’ cells have played in groundbreaking medical discoveries, including development of the polio vaccine, treatments for HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease—improving the quality of life of millions of people around the world.”
“I can think of few Marylanders – or even Americans – more deserving of this recognition than Henrietta Lacks,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “I am so proud of the life-saving contributions this Turner’s Station resident has made to medicine and society and that she will continue to make for generations to come. I encourage my colleagues to pass this resolution as quickly as possible as we honor women’s history month.”
“Henrietta Lacks made one of the most consequential contributions to the study of science and medicine,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “It’s an honor to introduce this resolution along with my Maryland delegation colleagues and recognize the groundbreaking and lifesaving medical advances that Ms. Lacks’ cells have paved the way for, including numerous vaccines and treatments for some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.”
“It is extremely important that we recognize Henrietta Lacks and make sure that her contributions are not forgotten,” Congressman Delaney said. “Outside of the spotlight, she made a lasting impact on American medicine, advancing medical research into devastating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Parkinson’s. I applaud Congressman Cummings for his work to raise awareness of Henrietta’s story and hope that this resolution can help more people learn about the difference she made.”
The House cosponsors of the resolution are Reps. Dwight Evans (D-PA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alma Adams (D-NC), John Lewis (D-GA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Robin Kelly (D-IL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), David Scott (D-GA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Bobby Rush (D-IL).
Click here for a PDF of the resolution. The full text follows:
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 they 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 ‘‘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 50,000,000 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 United States experience; and
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 by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress 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 people in the United States.