Ethical Considerations

There has been much written about Cord Blood Banking and the issues which surround it, specifically ethical considerations which have become central to the debate on the subject.  Many of the ethical questions regarding cord blood use and storage can be attributed to the main component of cord blood - stem cells.

Say the word stem cell research in a group of one hundred people, and you will likely get one hundred different opinions on the subject.  This is due to the fact that stem cells are varied and the controversy surrounding their use have roots in religious and moral objections, which view the potential damage to human life in collecting stem cells from embryos and amniotic fluid.  However, since there is an increasingly blurry line between religion and politics, the two side have come into conflict and thus there is a confusion as to why stem cell research can be so passionately opposed by so many.

First of all to understand what stem cells are, I have included a short overview here.  Now that you have read and understand a little about stem cells, let's talk about the ethical considerations.

Stem Cells
The major concern for religious organizations, such as right to life groups, regarding the use of stem cells is that their harvesting does not in any way hinder the creation or growth of human life.  As our stem cell overview tell us, the most advanced forms of stem cells are embryonic stem cells due to the fact that they are pluripotent, or in other words can differentiate into the more than 200 adult cells in the human body.  This means that embryonic stem cells are incredibly powerful for the future treatment of a variety of life ending and crippling diseases, such as cancer, paralysis, heart disease and motor neuron diseases.  

Unfortunately, in order to extract stem cells from the embryo, scientists must destroy the egg which some people believe also destroys human life.  This moral argument is a complicated issue as it relies on ones own personal religious beliefs, as well as personal ethical considerations.  As of today, there are no approved treatments which use embryonic stem cells, and some countries have passed moratoriums on their use in totality.

However, stem cells can be collected from other hosts, for example adult humans can have stem cells harvested from their bone marrow.  Unfortunately, these adult stem cells are not nearly as useful as embryonic stem cells as they are not considered pluripotent, meaning they cannot be adjusted for use in treating ailments. 

HPCs Effective Treatment Range
It is for these reasons, that scientists and the medical community have turned to hematopoietic stem cells, or hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs), which are found in the placenta and umbilical cord of new born children. As these progenitor cells are multipotent, meaning they can be differentiated into red or white blood cells and platelets, they can be used to treat a myriad of blood disorders and cancers. Indeed, the use of new techniques to retrieve stem cells which do not "destroy" human life (such as amniotic stem cell extraction and HPCs) have even led the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano to declare these procedures "the future of medicine".

What, then, could possibly be causing such an uproar?

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