8 June 2011, by Mandy Loh
It’s 39 weeks + 2 days into my pregnancy, and Boubbles is still chilling happily in the womb. So today, I thought I’d blog about something I’ve felt rather passionate about recently – the issue of cord blood banking.
As a quick introduction (thanks to Wikipedia), cord blood from the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta collected at birth contains stem cells which can be used to treat hematopoietic and genetic disorders. In Singapore, many parents sign up for private cord blood banking services, to collect their baby’s cord blood at birth and cryogenically store it for future possible usage by their child or other family members.
I had heard a bit about private cord blood banking before, but never really knew much about it until now. However, what I’ve found out through some online research has been quite eye-opening! But before I delve further into this, I would just like to say that this is only an expression of my personal opinion, and I respect the decisions of many parents-to-be that see the benefits of storing their baby’s cord blood privately.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s talk about the main rationale for private cord blood banking. Basically, the private cord blood banks present their service as a form of medical insurance, should your child be struck by some serious diseases/ illnesses in future.
In response, I found the opinion of the European Union Group on Ethics quite enlightening: it was mentioned that “the legitimacy of commercial cord blood banks for autologous (your own) use should be questioned as they sell a service, which has presently, no real use regarding therapeutic options.” In fact, it was stated that “the possibility of using one’s own cord blood stem cells for regenerative medicine is currently purely hypothetical.”
In other words, private cord blood banks are merely selling a hope that future advancements in science could allow your child to utilise their stored stem cells for treatment of illnesses and diseases that your child might possibly succumb to in future. In fact, the probability of someone ever using his/ her own cord blood for treatment would be extremely low, at 1 in 20,000.
The second selling point of private cord blood banks is that an individual’s cord blood could possibly be used by other family members if needed (as blood relatives would have a higher chance of compatibility/ blood match). However, imagine the family politics that would be at play! Which child’s cord blood should be given up for the family member who needs it? Once one’s cord blood unit has been utilised, that individual would no longer have the “insurance” for him/ herself! Such a situation might really end up showing the ugly side of human relationships. (ps. I actually got this from an online forum, which the contributor said was a real-life situation!)
Anyway, what I’m really excited to share about, is the option I eventually chose – of donating our baby’s cord blood to the Singapore Cord Blood Bank (www.scbb.com.sg), a public cord blood bank in Singapore. This sounded like a much better idea to Tim and I, as we had by now decided not to go for private cord blood banking, after weighing the tenuous advantages against the financial investment required.
By donating Boubbles’ cord blood, we would help to build up a more comprehensive public repository of cord blood units, available to anyone worldwide who requires stem cell therapy/ transplant. And instead of discarding the cord blood, we might as well donate it to someone who might possibly require it!
The benefits of pooling resources together in a public cord blood bank, accessible to the community at large, is much greater than storing one’s own unit of cord blood purely for one’s own use. Imagine – if everybody donated their baby’s cord blood at birth, people in need of transplants would have a much better chance of finding a suitable match, thereby increasing the usefulness of each stored unit. Also, nobody keeps pints of their own blood in private banks in case of accidents/future transfusions, so why should we do that for cord blood?
Sadly, I think the awareness of the Singapore Cord Blood Bank is rather low (it was only established in 2005) and most people might have only heard of private cord blood banking — probably because they do a lot of aggressive marketing. I truly believe that if more people knew of the public cord blood bank, more would make the decision to donate their baby’s cord blood too. I hope this post would somehow raise the awareness just that little bit more. 🙂