Legal Issues Surrounding Umbilical Cord Blood Banking
There is no doubt that cord blood banking is changing the face of the way we heal some of the most incurable diseases. Cord blood, if extracted directly after birth from the placenta and then stored right away, can cure a number of genetic diseases and disorders, from diabetes to heart disease, and even cancer. However, just like people were up in arms after the invention of electricity, people are slowing down the progress of cord blood banking and technology by putting numerous road blocks in the way of scientists being able to do more research and keeping private facilities from opening up shop to store the cord blood. Here are some of the legal issues surrounding umbilical cord blood banking.
One of the biggest legal issues regarding cord blood banking has to do with ownership. With a private cord blood banking center, if you are paying thousands of dollars to store your child’s cord blood, once you actually sign on the dotted line and send the cord blood off, you are not technically the owner of the cord blood – the banking center is. The parents are mainly deemed “custodians” until the child turns 18 and then they can decide what to do with it. Private cord blood banking centers remain owners, because if someone defaults on a payment, the banking center wants to have its own discretion to sell or dispose of the cord blood to research if the balance is not paid.
This can pose significant legal risks, because the cord blood is essentially someone’s unique genetic make up – how do you sell or dispose of someone else’s unique genetic make up? On top of giving up your legal rights to own your own cord blood, you are also risking how your cord blood is being stored. One day, you could visit the cord blood banking center and ask for a sample, because you contracted a rare genetic disorder and the only way to cure it is with stem cells. The cord blood banking center could tell you that they don’t have it anymore or they have donated it. Whether this was a mishap on their end or they mislabeled your cord blood, when your parents stored your cord blood, they effectively absolved the cord blood banking center of any responsibility pertaining to theft or mismanagement, which is extremely unfortunate for you if you really need it.
Lastly, while there are a number of legal hurdles when it comes to cord blood banking, most of what is stated in the contract you sign when you store cord blood is to protect the banking center from frivolous lawsuits. When it comes down to it, cord blood is actually quite safe to extract and it is almost never mismanaged when it is stored. Cord blood banking centers do their best to make sure the cord blood is safe and sound – not just for the immediate future, but also the 10 to 20 years down the line, so that when someone might actually need their own stem cells, the banking center won’t have trouble finding their sample. With this technology it could mean the difference of life and death, and cord blood banking centers don’t take this lightly.