Who owns the cord?

My focus here is not on the immense value of cord blood cells in regenerative medicine but one central ethical issue surrounding the revolutionary science. Whether posthumous or not, the informed consent in issue donation is always a hazy area that is not easy to be governed under regulation. This is because we can’t conclude in legal terms as to who’s the real donor: the mother or her child?

Today, most of the procurement happens only after due consent but the larger question still remains: can this consent be deemed adequate and full-proof in law?  In today’s fast-paced times of invariably strained familial relations, one can’t rule out the possibility of a disputing claim made by a member overriding the mother’s consent. Imagine the complexities it could invite at the door of the clinic long after the donation has been made and utilized for good.

The million dollar (unanswered) question is: who owns the cord? The law is undecided – at times, it assumes the placenta or umbilicus to be part of the mother and in some cases, part of the child. The Genetic argument does favour the child but can’t rule out the claim of family including the father and siblings – both living and future. The logical way out is to make the consent process as inclusive as possible. Which means, rather than assuming things, one should seek the consent of both parents on behalf of their child.

But this is easier said than done. Property rights in human tissue are an unexplored area – both from the judicial and the more important ethical point of view. It’s clearly a long-drawn process of introspection and deliberation and we certainly can’t expect a silver bullet in the form of a solution.

The best we can do NOW is to trigger a global public discussion across all forums – medical or otherwise – on this critical issue that could one day truly unlock the phenomenal potential of this therapeutic stream.

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