oa South African Journal of Bioethics and Law - Ethical and regulatory issues surrounding umbilical cord blood banking in South Africa



Recent medical advances in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue transplantation have highlighted the importance of umbilical cord blood (UCB) as a valuable alternative source of haematopoietic stem cells, which are potentially life-saving in a vast array of clinical applications. Although less controversial than the use of embryonic stem cells obtained from fetal tissue, the practice of UCB biobanking presents several ethical and regulatory challenges surrounding its procurement and use, especially in developing countries like South Africa, where the majority of the population is vulnerable and prone to exploitation. Currently only private umbilical cord banking is practised in South Africa and the regulatory framework for human tissue use is still rudimentary with no clear guidelines. This environment raises ethical questions about consent and ownership of tissues, the cost-effectiveness of harvesting and storage of UCB, undue influence on donors, and issues of distributive justice such as the fact that UCB, which is potentially life-saving and could be easily obtained, may become a resource unfairly restricted only to the wealthy. In view of the fact that UCB has become a valuable, non-invasive source of stem cells for regenerative therapy, establishment of a public cord blood bank (CBB) in South Africa would vastly improve the availability of haematopoietic stem cells for research and therapeutic uses, and increase the tissue genetic diversity that currently impedes the South African bone marrow registry.


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