by Mark Penninga
Blood – it’s in us to give. Many of us donate blood because it is an easy way to help those in need. But few are aware that every time a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are filled with a most precious type of blood that can also be donated.
Generally referred to as cord blood (i.e. from the umbilical cord), this blood is rich in stem cells. Because stem cells are capable of developing into many types of cells, tissues and even organs, they have a potential to be used for cures to many health defects. Unfortunately, cord blood is usually discarded. In the past, when stem cells were not yet discovered, this was understandable. But now that we know just how rich a treasure they are, it would be wise to consider donating cord blood.
The science and ethics of cord blood
The research sciences are making some amazing discoveries. This is especially the case with a field of technologies associated with biology and human reproduction. The discovery of stem cells by Canadian scientists back in the 1960s has been one of the most significant finds in the field of biotechnology in recent decades. That is because these cells have the ability to differentiate into many types of cells which allows them to provide healing where cells have been damaged or destroyed because of cancers, strokes, and many other health problems.
Millions of dollars have been spent in the past few decades to discover how these cells could be used to bring healing. Sadly, most of the attention has been devoted to using stem cells from human embryos because scientists thought that they had the most potential and also realized that there is an abundant supply because of abortion.
After years of hype and many unborn children used for research, these embryonic stem cells have led to very few results. In contrast, those stem cells which are found in non-embryonic sources, such as cord blood or adults, have led to some amazing discoveries. Carrie Gordon Earll, Focus on the Family’s senior policy analyst for bioethics explains that, “Embryonic stem cells have not cured or successfully treated a single patient. Contrast that with the more than 70 conditions that are treatable using non-embryonic stem cell therapies.”
The primary use of stem cells from cord blood in Canada seems to be directed towards cancer treatment which would otherwise require bone marrow transplants. In fact, a recent CBC News article stated that cord blood is fast becoming the preferred alternative to bone marrow transplants for children with cancer. The Cord Blood Bank of Canada explains that any “disease/condition which requires the regeneration of tissue (due to injury or disease) is a potential candidate for stem cell therapy.” Some examples include osteoporosis, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s Disease. If you are interested in learning more about the successes of cord blood stem cells and other “adult” stem cells and how they compare to embryonic stem cells, go to www.stemcellresearch.org or www.citizenlink.org and click on bioethics/sanctity of human life.
Donating Cord Blood in Canada
Reformed families tend to have many children. I am unsure if a survey has ever been done to measure the average number of children in our families, but it is much higher than the national average birth rate of 1.5 children per couple. What an amazing impact we would have if we donated cord blood with every birth. The same CBC article states that the majority of cord blood used in Canada has to come from other countries. There is a real need for more donations. Furthermore, if an abundance of cord blood was available, it may direct the researchers away from unethical embryonic research and towards this ethical use of adult stem cells.
The following list of questions and answers is meant to help you decide whether donating cord blood is an option for your family. For more information, check out the websites listed beside this article.
What are the options for giving or preserving cord blood?
In Canada there are two main options for banking cord blood. You can go with one of almo
st a dozen private blood banks and be guaranteed that the blood will be available for the use of your family in the future. Or you can go with a public bank which will donate the blood to anybody in need rather than keeping it for your family. The only public banks are the Alberta Cord Blood Bank (ACBB) and one provided by HEMA Quebec. The ACBB is available for people from all parts of the country. Canadian Blood Services is currently lobbying governments to create a public national cord blood bank.
What conditions need to be met if I want to donate cord blood to the ACBB?
Almost any mother with a healthy pregnancy may donate cord blood to the ACBB. To donate blood, the parents must fill in a donor registration form which asks a series of questions which may make some families ineligible to donate. This form must also be signed by a family doctor or obstetrician. The ACBB must receive your registration form (available online – see below for website) before the mothers 34th week of pregnancy.
How much does this cost?
The ACBB is free because the cord blood is accepted as a donation rather than storing it for your use only. However, the private banks come with a fee of about $1000-1500 plus $120 per year for storage.
What happens if the ACBB accepts my registration?
You will receive a cord blood collection kit in the mail about a month before the due date. This kit must be taken to the hospital at the time of delivery. Two samples of the mother’s blood will also be taken for testing. The kit and samples will be delivered to the ACBB in Edmonton. The Cord blood will be frozen and can be preserved for 10-15 years. However, it will likely be used prior to then.
Can donating cord blood be harmful to the mom or child?
No, collecting cord blood does not interfere with the delivery. The ACBB states that cord blood can only be collected after the mother and child are safe.
Can the cord blood be used for unethical purposes?
The purpose of donating cord blood is to help others who suffer from disease or disability. Since no harm is done to the mother or the baby, and since it results in such help to others, donating cord blood is very ethical. However, the ACBB does note that some cord blood donations are not suitable for donation due to factors such as contamination. Some of these cells are used for research. The ACBB does not specify what type of research is done on these cells but they make it clear that they will not be used for cloning and that experimentation must follow strict guidelines. If you are concerned about experimentation on the stem cells that you donate, give them a call to discuss this and consider the options.
This article made use of information from the above organizations as well as CBC News (“National Cord Blood Bank Recommended”, June 1, 2007), The Toronto Star, (“Canada Needs Cord Blood Bank, Experts Say”, June 3, 2007), and Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink website (Carrie Gordon Earll, “Adult Stem Cells: It’s Not Pie-In-The-Sky,” available at citizenlink.org)
For more information
To learn more you can contact the following organizations or visit their websites:
- Alberta Cord Blood Bank (public banking)
www.acbb.ca (phone: 780-492-2673)
- Canadian Cord Blood Registry (associated with ACBB)
www.ccbr.ca (phone: 780-439-8606 or 1-888-818-2673)
- Cord Blood Bank of Canada (one of many private banks)
www.cordbloodbankofcanada.com (phone 905--943-4933)