Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2012

Abstract

Henrietta Lacks achieved fame and immortality in the world of science. In 1951, Johns Hopkins Hospital harvested the tissue of Ms. Lacks, a 31-year-old African American woman diagnosed with cervical cancer to mass produce "HeLa cells."' The money derived from her cell line produced wonders and scientific breakthroughs in technology, biology and medicine which "far exceeds that reflected in the published literature, because it is the reference cell in so many research laboratories.”

In this essay, I place Ms. Lacks' parts (tissue cells) back into her body to raise a claim of unjust enrichment. I discuss the ongoing debate as to whether the ownership of cells is a legally protected interest. I explore historical facts and apply them to eke out justice for Ms. Lacks and her descendants. I sketch the elements for unjust enrichment under Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment (2011). The new restatement offers an opportunity to re-visit the unauthorized taking of and profiting from Ms. Lacks' cell line. Even if it does not fit expressly within the definition of unjust enrichment, it fits within the purpose and goals of the concept.