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Lacking Recognition

The Washington Post reports that Representative Kweisi Mfume (D-Maryland) has filed legislation to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used for medical research without her consent.

Mfume says Lacks deserves the award because of how much her cells, commonly called HeLa cells, have benefited and continue to benefit society, finding use in everything from vaccine research to cancer therapeutic development to in vitro fertilization, the Post reports. Many of these efforts are, as the Post notes, part of "moneymaking medical ventures."

Only in recent years has the story of her cells been broadly acknowledged and celebrated, after decades of her family not knowing about the research or receiving any compensation.

"For Ms. Lacks to have gone on to her grave many, many years ago for whatever miracle God put in her body to be able to keep helping us, I think it warrants recognition from the United States Congress," Mfume tells the Post.

Mfume succeeded the late Elijah Cummings in Maryland's 7th District in 2020. Last year, legislation introduced by Cummings and subsequently taken up by Mfume became law: The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act requires the federal government to publish a report on government-funded cancer research trials, including the amount of participation by underrepresented populations and describing the barriers to participation, the Post adds.