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Legal and Ethical Issues Surrounding Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

Many parents are interested in the prospect of banking their baby’s umbilical cord blood following delivery. The procedure is considered to be totally safe and generally ethical, much more so than collecting stem cells, for example, and the blood is equally valuable in terms of future use. In case you didn’t know, banking blood present in the umbilical cord could save the life of a child or family member down the line. The reason is that this blood has special properties thanks to the stem cells found within. They are capable of generating a variety of new cells rapidly, something that our bodies lose the ability to do as we get older. And for people suffering from serious ailments like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, these stem cells could provide a cure (although further studies need to be done in most cases). Scientists are also hopeful that these specialized cells could lead to cures for conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease, just for example. However, if you’re interested in banking cord blood, there are a few legal and ethical issues you should be aware of beforehand.

The first thing you need to understand is the ownership of umbilical cord blood. It turns out that there are two main ways to bank cord blood, and each has legalities associated with it. The first option is to donate cord blood to a public bank. This process is supported by the medical community and costs you nothing, but you lose legal ownership of the cord blood once it has been donated. This means that it may be used for the purposes of research or passed along to another person in need that is compatible with the blood type. When you release ownership through this donation, your link to it (and your baby’s link) is severed. It becomes anonymous and you cannot retrieve it at a later date.

However, you can also choose to bank your baby’s umbilical cord blood in a private facility as well, and this option is much more appealing to parents looking to preserve stem cells as a sort of insurance policy meant to protect their child’s future. This method comes with a cost that ranges from about $1,000 to $2,000, but parents retain legal custody of the cord blood until such time as it may be transferred to their child. Once the child associated with the sample reaches the age of 18, he or she gains legal ownership of the banked cord blood. The care and use of these specimens is regulated by the FDA and all applicable laws may be found in the Code of Federal Regulations in the section regarding regulations pertaining to cord blood banks, and particularly to “human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products” (Title 21, Section 1271).

As for ethical issues, it cannot be denied that some people feel it is morally wrong to bank cord blood and use the stem cells within for research or medical purposes. In many cases the arguments against using a cord blood bank are religious in nature. However, there seems to be a lot less hubbub over banking blood from umbilical cords than there is about harvesting embryonic stem cells. In truth, each family must decide for themselves what they feel comfortable with. But blood taken from the umbilical cord for banking purposes is gathered only after both the infant and mother have been separated from the umbilical cord, making the procedure safe, and most people feel, ethically sound. And if it has the potential to save your child’s life or the life of a sibling down the road, why wouldn’t you want that kind of insurance?

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