With the religious controversy about personhood, abortion and modern medical practices, it’s no surprise that people of faith question stem cell research and collection. However, where do the different religious communities stand on umbilical cord blood banking? How do those views compare to embryonic extraction?
Umbilical cord blood provides stem cells collected after a baby is born and therefore is palatable to more world religions. The retrieval and dispersion methods significantly impact believers’ feelings and opinions on cord blood banking.
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is the process of collecting and storing umbilical stem cells for later use. Pregnant women can arrange retrieval with their OB-GYN and hospital of choice. After giving birth, the doctor will extract the remaining blood from the placenta and umbilical cord. They then send it to a public or private bank for safekeeping and distribution.
The blood contains hematopoietic stem cells, which are useful for treating many conditions, including certain cancers and immune and neurological disorders. You can pay to store your child’s cord blood in a private bank as insurance in case they get one of these illnesses. However, the likelihood of them needing it and the cells being a good match is low. Another option is to use public cord blood banking, which is free and allows the stem cells to transfer to someone in need.
How Does It Differ From Other Stem Cells?
The primary difference between these and other stem cells is the extraction method, which is where most of the religious controversy comes into play. There are three primary sources:
- Adult stem cells: These come from adult bone marrow or fat tissue. The concentration of cells in these locations and adults is much lower than in the other two options. However, they don’t require the involvement of infants in any way. Extraction is known to be rather painful but can save lives.
- Embryonic stem cells: These come from blastocysts, which are three-to-five-day-old embryos consisting of around 150 cells. Most religions take issue with this method of stem cell retrieval since it disrupts the possibility of life developing.
- Perinatal stem cells: These come from blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Extraction causes no pain for the mother or baby. The stem cells are less concentrated than embryonic but more so than adult. Most treatments require more than one donation of perinatal stem cells.
Ethical Issues With Cord Blood
While cord blood banking is generally considered a positive process, even by those in religious communities, it’s not without some potentially problematic ethical issues.
Private vs. Public Cord Blood Banking
The central issue for most critics is the storage methods of these lifesaving treatments. Many people choose to keep cord blood in private institutions. They feel pressured into this choice by medical advice and advertising, thinking there’s a high chance their child or a close relative will need it one day. However, that likelihood is relatively low.
Far fewer donate cord blood to public banks where it could get the most use. These samples are valuable for treating over 80 serious conditions and diseases. Scientists and doctors can also use them for clinical trials and lab testing to look for cures and create new treatments.
Doctors and banks must be more transparent with expectant mothers to improve the ethics of cord blood banking, sharing available data so they can make informed decisions.
Tangential to the private vs. public cord blood banking debate is the availability of stem cells when needed. Private banks make personal storage expensive, so the well-to-do have easier access than people who may be financially struggling.
However, lower-income families have a higher chance of getting ill and needing treatment. The medical and law-making communities must prioritize equality in health care, including access to stem cell transfusions.
Those who decide to donate their blood to a public bank generally do so with the desire to help someone else get well. However, not all cord blood samples are used for transfusions and treatments.
Scientists and doctors can procure cord blood for research and testing. You cannot request how your specimen is used when you donate. While new studies are essential, many people dislike the uncertainty of what could happen to their donation.
Differing Beliefs on Cord Blood Banking
Each world religion has differing views on medical research and testing, especially when it comes to stem cells. Most religious controversy comes from a distaste for embryonic retrieval, viewing it as the destruction of life. Umbilical cord blood doesn’t carry the same negativity. In general, the major religions agree on its usefulness in healing. Their central opinions and concerns boil down to these items.
Value of Life and Blood
People of faith generally believe life begins at conception, so they view embryonic cells as part of a living being with a soul. Therefore, destroying embryos to extract stem cells is abhorrent to most world religions. Hindus are the only exception — their position is that the life would find another way to be born, so there is no harm.
However, most religions have no qualms with extracting cord blood since it’s no longer necessary for anyone’s life and doesn’t contain life. It’s an acceptable and often encouraged practice since it can save lives without harming anyone. The only exception comes from Judaism concerning Sabbath laws. Only lifesaving procedures are allowed on the Sabbath, and cord blood extraction doesn’t qualify.
Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism all have themes of public service or acts of kindness for the common good. Leaders in these religions generally promote donating blood and organs within and outside the religious community. Since umbilical cord blood donation doesn’t cause harm to any living thing and can treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, it’s also considered a favorable practice.
Distribution of Resources
Cord blood banking may be a valuable act of service, but there’s some religious controversy about its allocation. Most main world religions believe in the distribution of resources to those who are needy. There are strict guidelines for who can receive organ transplants and blood transfusions. People who need them the most and can make the best use of the tissues and blood get first access. It’s not based on income or ethnicity.
However, the religious community is concerned about banked distribution. Most cord blood resides in private banks, where only the people wealthy enough to store it can access it. Even publicly banked cord blood may not always follow the same strict guidelines as organs and other blood.
Preference for Public Banks
As such, most major world religions prefer public banking over private. They generally frown upon storing away this potentially lifesaving miracle for an unknown future need when it could help someone right now. Families with a history of diseases that can be treated with stem cells from umbilical cord blood are a typical exception.
Where Do Your Convictions Lie?
While most religions have significant qualms with embryonic stem cell extraction and research, their opinions on umbilical cord blood banking are much more favorable. However, these stances are still rather fluid and subject to change as new information becomes available. There’s undoubtedly wiggle room for personal convictions and religious inquiry before deciding either way.