Friday, September 20, 2019

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Article Index

IV. Transformative Justice

Lady Justice must remove her blindfold, and develop a keen sense of sight, which will allow for deliberate vision calculated towards an application of principles of social equity. A notion of transformative justice should be firmly rooted in the ethical principle of justice. Justice does not allow us to continue the denial of Henrietta Lacks' as a person (the sum of her parts) due to the public narrative that continues to benefit society at-large from the use of her parts (tissue cells) as a cell line without acknowledging any obligation for Ms. Lacks' descendants to be made whole. The principles of social equity mandate that we acknowledge the salient issues of race, gender, class, and medicine that penetrated our public healthcare system both then and now. A public sense of justice for Ms. Lacks' family is worthy of due praise for taking steps to recognize her legacy.

Rebecca Skloot founded a non-profit foundation with a mission to show appreciation for those who have contributed to science in the way Ms. Lacks has. In fact, her foundation has directly impacted the lives of Ms. Lacks' descendants by providing a high-tech hearing aid for one of her sons, truck repairs for another son, new teeth for a granddaughter, braces for a great-granddaughter, and tuition, books, and fees for five of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Skloot is also trying to raise over $125,000 to pay the medical costs associated with the quadruple-bypass surgery for one of Henrietta's sons. She was instrumental in ensuring that Henrietta's three surviving sons were hired as consultants for an HBO film being produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films and screenwriter Alan Ball. Additionally, individual readers - cancer survivors and scientists - have contributed much of the $50,000 to the foundation. The Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research is the establishing sponsor of the Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture Series. It is

[a]n annual reminder of the gratitude, respect, and clear communication due to all research participants. . . . By coming together each year to remember the woman behind this lifesaving, world-changing development in biomedical science, the Johns Hopkins research community will never again forget that HeLa stands for Henrietta Lacks.

Johns Hopkins also established financial awards including the Henrietta Lacks East Baltimore Health Sciences Scholarship, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Health System, an award of up to $10,000 per year to support promising graduates of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, as well as the Henrietta Lacks Award for Community-University Collaboration, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Urban Institute, which provides a $15,000 annual award to recognize outstanding, pre-existing community-university collaborations in Baltimore.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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