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Hidden Legal Issues of Cord Blood Banking

A recent article on MarketWatch reported that the FDA has granted approval for landmark clinical trials to study cord blood stem cell treatment for pediatric brain injuries and acquired hearing loss. These promising new studies will undoubtedly cause many expectant parents to consider donating or storing their infant’s cord blood. However, our Chicago birth injury attorneys urge parents to take a closer look at the legal implications of collecting and storing cord blood before they make a decision.

Cord blood is the blood remaining in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born. Cord blood contains hematopoietic stem cells, which have the potential to become all of the different types of mature blood cells and is presently used to treat genetic, blood, and immune disorders, including several types of cancers. Conventionally cord blood was disposed of as medical waste, but with the appearance of both private and public cord blood banks, new parents have the choice of collecting and storing their infant’s cord blood in a private bank or donating to a public bank.

The new clinical trials announced by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Georgia Health Sciences University are groundbreaking in that they will study the effect of cord blood cells on pediatric brain injury, cerebral palsy, and acquired hearing loss using patients’ own stored cord blood. These studies will be partnering with Cord Blood Registry (CBR), the largest private cord blood bank in the world.

According to the MarketWatch article, one study at the University of Texas will focus on the effect of cord blood on children with traumatic brain injuries. Another study at the University of Texas in partnership with Children’s Memorial will focus on how cord blood can help to heal inner ear injuries and its effect on treating acquired hearing loss in children. The study at Georgia Health will determine the benefits of using cord blood to treat children with cerebral palsy. A fraction of all of the ailments that will be studied can be attributed to some form of medical malpractice, in which cases parents should seek the counsel of a reputable personal injury attorney.

For many expecting parents, these groundbreaking studies will make collecting and storing their child’s cord blood in a private bank sound appealing. However, an birth injury lawyer or family attorney will point out that there are several legal issues that parents should consider carefully before making arrangements with a public or private cord blood bank.

First, there is the issue of ownership of the cord blood. When a person donates cord blood, all rights of ownership are relinquished with it and the bank may do what it likes with the donated material, including using it in research. Many private cord banks designate the parents as the custodians of the cord blood until the child becomes 18, at which time the child becomes the custodian. This could potentially present several legal problems of custody should the parents divorce before the child turns 18, and it may be wise to meet with a lawyer to discuss the possible ramifications and plan for the future custody and payment of storage fees. Additionally, many cord banks’ contracts state that the bank will take ownership of the cord blood if storage fees are not paid when due. Once the bank owns the cord blood, it may utilize the cord blood at its discretion including research, donations, and disposal.

Most private cord blood banks make no guarantees as to whether the blood will be viable at a specific time and require contracts that absolve them of responsibility in certain situations if the blood was not collected or labeled properly by the client or the client’s physician. Several banks require clients to acknowledge that cord blood may not be suitable for use by other family members and may not be appropriate for every situation. Additionally, most banks make no guarantees about the effectiveness of cord blood therapy or access to medical trials.

There is also a problem of privacy. Cord blood contains private medical information about the infant as well as the parents, including information about diseases and genetic predisposition to diseases. Such testing gives the bank access to information that could present several privacy problems for the child and parents that should be reviewed with an experienced Illinois birth injury attorney. Privacy problems can include the denial of healthcare or higher premiums due to a previously unknown disease or predisposition. Other problems can include social stigmatization and the psychological toll of knowing that a child or loved one is predisposed to a certain disease.

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