The Ethics Of Umbilical Stem Cell Storage And Its Use

Rarely has medical science grappled so complex a problem as the one that relates to umbilical stem cell cord blood preservation and its use. In this article, we will examine the genesis of the problem, see how some people perceive it and offer some progressive viewpoints.

storing cord blood

cord blood center

In a number of countries, creation of embryos solely for the purpose of harvesting their embryonic stem cell is banned. This however has not stopped research into the subject. Firstly, the ban applies to a research that is funded by the government. Secondly, the techniques of artificial fertilization which were designed to help childless couples result in a large number of embryos that can not be put to any use and may eventually have to be destroyed. In fact, a recent study has estimated that there are as many as 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States alone!
The ethical debate essentially stems from a discussion about when life is said to originate in an embryo. There is a school of thought that says that life begins at conception and damaging or destroying an embryo is therefore akin to killing a human being. It is obvious that those who hold this view will consider any type of stem cell research unacceptable.
A second group believes that an embryo gets moral rights when it attains viability. This implies that the embryo has developed to a point where it can survive independently. Jewish and Islamic religions feel that an embryo gets moral rights when the mother first feels the fetus move.
There is yet another group that feels that person-hood is necessary before an embryo can be said to have rights. Such people insist that only when an embryo can begin to feel and acquires a memory will there be moral rights.
Besides the status of the embryo, there are issues relating to society as well. It is well appreciated that for the next few years, the costs associated with stem cell treatment would be high. Who then should have first call on the treatment?
Many of these issues will get resolved with time. Some will surely cause a lot of controversy. However, it cannot be denied that cord blood collection during birth offers the least controversial method of collecting stem cells. At least there are no issues of damaging or destroying embryos and no discussion on when an embryo can be said to acquire a personality and become viable.
Regardless of the ethics, research on cord blood preservation is throwing up new treatments and options with great regularity. Umbilical stem cell or cord blood banking, generally with a private cord blood bank, offers an insurance policy for the future that few can afford to ignore.