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In 1942, the United States Supreme Court Case of Skinner v. Oklahoma ruled that states could not legally sterilize those inmates of prisons deemed habitual criminals. Skinner v. Oklahoma was about the case of Jack Skinner, an inmate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, who was subject to sterilization under the Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act of 1935. The case, decided on 1 June 1942, determined that state laws were unconstitutional if those laws enabled states to forcibly sterilize inmates deemed to be habitual criminals.
Henrietta Lacks, born Loretta Pleasant, had terminal cervical cancer in 1951, and was diagnosed at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where researchers collected and stored her cancer cells. Those cells went on to become the first immortal human cell line, which the researchers named HeLa. An immortal cell line is an atypical cluster of cells that continuously multiply on their own outside of the organism from which they came, often due to a mutation.
In the legal case In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation of the early 1980s, US military veterans of the Vietnam War sued the US chemical companies that had produced the herbicide Agent Orange, and those companies settled with US veterans out of court. Agent Orange contains dioxin, a chemical later shown to disrupt the hormone system of the body and to cause cancer. As veterans returned to the US from Vietnam, scientists further confirmed that exposure to Agent Orange caused a variety of cancers in veterans and developmental problems in the veterans' children.
On 9 July 1990, in Moore v. Regents of the University of California, the Supreme Court of California ruled in a four-to-three decision that individuals do not have rights to a share in profits earned from research performed on their bodily materials. In its decision, the Supreme Court of California ruled that cancer patient John L. Moore did not have personal property rights to samples or fluids that his physicians took from his body for research purposes.