[Congressional Record Volume 156, Number 83 (Friday, May 28, 2010)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1008-E1009]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]



                       HON. THOMAS S.P. PERRIELLO

                              of virginia

                    in the house of representatives

                          Friday, May 28, 2010

  Mr. PERRIELLO. Madam Speaker, today I wish to commemorate the 
Memorial Dedication Service in honor of Henrietta Pleasant-Lacks, which 
will take place this weekend at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Clover, 
Virginia. At this ceremony, the descendents of Henrietta Lacks will at 
last be able to dedicate a headstone for a woman who has for too long 
been buried in an unmarked grave.
  Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant on August 1, 1920, in 
Roanoke Virginia. The granddaughter of slaves, she was raised by her 
grandfather on a tobacco farm. She married David Lacks in Halifax 
County, Virginia in 1941, and moved to Baltimore County, Maryland, in 
search of work. Henrietta and David had five children: Lawrence, Elsie, 
David, Deborah and Joseph. In February of 1951, Henrietta was diagnosed 
with cervical cancer. Despite the treatments Henrietta received, she 
died just eight months later, on October 4, 1951, at the age of thirty-
one. She was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Clover, 
  However, the story of Henrietta Lacks was far from over. Without the 
permission of Lacks, her husband, or any family members, doctors at 
Johns Hopkins had collected and saved samples of tissue from her 
cancerous tumor during her hospital stay. These tissue samples were 
given to George Gey, who had for decades had unsuccessfully attempted 
to grow cancer cells outside of the body in hopes of studying the 
causes of and cures for cancer. Lacks's cells finally provided the 
breakthrough he had been searching for: they doubled in number every 24 
hours, and would continue to divide and replenish themselves 
indefinitely, providing an immortal line of human cells. The line was 
named ``HeLa,'' and cells were distributed to researchers around the 
world. These cells are still in use today, and have provided invaluable 
advances in not only cancer, but also fertility, genetics, and

[[Page E1009]]

AIDS research. They also contributed to the invention of the polio 
vaccine--a fitting end for the cells of a woman who had been a vocal 
advocate for polio eradication. To date, some twenty tons of these 
cells have been grown.
  The achievements these cells have made possible are undeniably 
thrilling, but we cannot forget the dark side of this story: that the 
cells were taken without Henrietta Lacks's consent, that her family was 
not told for many years what had been done, and that such practices 
were not uncommon. Lacks was just one of many individuals of that era 
whose right to consent to procedures performed on her own body was 
taken away in the name of scientific advancement. Had her cells not 
been so unusual, her story would likely not be known.
  Today we not only honor Henrietta Lacks and her legacy, but we also 
remember every forgotten individual who because of racial 
discrimination or poverty was subject to some form of medical 
injustice. Her story contains at once the greatest heights and most 
shameful depths of which medicine is capable, and only in acknowledging 
both can we hope to pursue a world for our future generations that 
strives for both knowledge and justice.
  This more just world requires that we work for access to health care 
for all, regardless of socioeconomic status. One of the greatest 
outrages of Henrietta Lacks's story has been that while the medical 
industry makes millions from advances she made possible, members of her 
own family have struggled to afford care, and have never been able to 
benefit from the medical discoveries made. As we fight for solutions to 
these injustices, I pledge to remember Henrietta's family's words, ``We 
are asking each of you to be her voice.'' On behalf of the 5th District 
of Virginia, I thank Dr. Ronald Pattillo of the Morehouse School of 
Medicine for his support for the tombstone dedication and the Lacks 
family for their dedicated efforts to telling her story and ensuring 
that future generations will know that we have Henrietta's immortal 
cells to thank for countless discoveries made and lives saved.