You’re likely to start hearing this question more often. As the UK wakes up to the fact that umbilical cord blood and tissue contain billions of life-giving stem cells, expectant parents have yet another decision to make, and this one might be the most important of them all.
In the majority of births, the placenta and umbilical cord are discarded as medical waste, despite the fact that cord blood stem cells are already used to treat 82 diseases, including leukaemia, sickle cell disease, and severe combined immunodeficiencies. Unless the mother or father specifically request and organise cord blood storage or donation their child’s cord and placenta will be thrown away.
This is the only way to make sure that matching stem cells will be available for your child to use if they need them in the future. Banked cord blood and tissue stem cells can also often be used to treat siblings and other relatives. At a lower cost than car insurance, in our view, stem cell banking is the best resource parents have in protecting their family’s health.
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Matilda Battersby in The Guardian speaks to one donor with a more altruistic approach:
“The thought of something that could potentially save a life being incinerated along with other medical waste seems wrong. It didn’t cost me anything, monetarily or otherwise, to donate, so it seemed like a simple choice. Why wouldn’t I do it?”
We’re familiar with the idea of storing cord blood and tissue stem cells for the future and assume that in both cases, the cells will be used to treat patients in need. In her article, however, Battersby looks at the situation in the US and raises some uncomfortable questions:
- If the biotechnology industry is doing so well, why are maternity resources so underfunded?
- Since the stem cells in the placenta and umbilical cord are extremely valuable, both medically and fiscally, why shouldn’t families be paid for them?
“Naturally,” Battersby writes, “there are considerable ethical ramifications, and nobody wants to start a baby farm where placentas are manufactured and women are treated like chattel. But women will and do have babies.”