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Monday, April 12, 2004

Calling Catholic Moms

Despite our best attempts at natural child birth, my wife has had three C-sections – one for each of our children. As she was wheeled into the operating room last June for the birth of our most recent child, we prayed the Rosary together. Just as we reached the beginning of the third Joyful mystery, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I saw our little boy lifted out and raised on high by the doctor, his umbilical cord still pulsing with each heartbeat. Blood is the source of life, says the book of Leviticus, so life’s blood, specifically umbilical cord blood, is the perfect topic for Easter week.

God is amazingly good at keeping His promises. When He says blood is the source of life (Leviticus 17:11), He means it quite literally. Not only is it the source of life for each of us through the oxygen it carries, it is the source of life in another most amazing way. Let me explain.

For years now, scientists have had the most excellent and laudable goal of trying to use stem cells as a means of healing those who are suffering grievous illness. Diabetes, cancer, stroke: the list of diseases which could be healed if only we know how best to manipulate stem cells is endless.

Unfortunately, many people have twisted this laudable goal in order to advance their own political agenda. Instead of looking for the best source of stem cells to advance healing, they have sought to shoe-horn a specific source of stems cell into the forefront as a way to justify the killing of very small children. The pro-abortion agenda has oiled and squirmed its way into stem cell research; many otherwise reputable scientists now allow their pro-abortion agenda to influence the direction of their work. Thus, instead of seeking the best source of stem cells, these men and women use the worst possible sources of stem cells – human embryos – and pretend to themselves and the world that success will eventually crown their efforts.

This is a fight every Catholic mother should join. You see, the stem cells from cord blood can do everything stem cells obtained from human embryos cannot. Lifesite News quotes Dr. John Gearhart, of John Hopkins University, “[Embryonic stem cells are] surprisingly genetically unstable [and] may complicate efforts to turn cells into cures." Bioethicist Glenn McGee agrees: "the potential that they would explode into a cancerous mass after stem cell transplant might turn out to be the Pandora's box of stem cell research.”

These men aren’t speaking theoretically. Nearly every such experiment has sparked uncontrollable cancerous growths in one or more of the test subjects. Not once has a set of stem cells obtained through the destruction of a human embryo ever cured anyone. Even optimistic researchers don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

With the blood from umbilical cords, life is much different. You see, cord blood is a rich source of embryonic stem cells. And, unlike the stem cells obtained by killing short people, transfused cord blood has already eliminated disease from the lives of thousands of children and adults. Cord blood works. Right now.

As Gretchen Clavey, who is a Catholic contemplative, a wife, and a mother of eight (five here, three in heaven) in Champaign, Illinois points out, “this is precisely the kind of topic my vocation and state in life gives me a platform to speak about. Women like me should be of the most vocal on this issue because we have the ability to convey to other moms or anybody else that will listen about the need to donate cord blood. What other group of people out there think a whole lot about umbilical cords anyway?”

“Consider the profound beauty of the way in which God has made this option for treating disease available, that is, through the gift of a mother open to life. She is open to the life of her own child and now can even help save other people's lives by simply requesting that the cord blood be donated. There are many layers of profound Catholic theology that can be used to uncover how beautiful this is! It's very Marian, very Catholic!

"Many unsuspecting Catholics are being led down the primrose path of agreeing with abortionists - without even realizing that cord blood is the obvious solution to the problem. Hidden like diamonds in the rough, however, is a beautiful gift from God to his people, one that will get ignored if someone doesn't get on the horn and raise awareness! Let's not miss this opportunity to take back one of those topics the abortion proponents have taken control of in the public square.”

Now, many private organizations inadvertently limit the usefulness of cord blood in order to make a dollar. These groups tell you that you should donate your child’s cord blood to their private registery, reserving your child’s blood just for him, and cordoning it off from anyone else’s use. Sadly, this is precisely the wrong way to approach the problem. Stem cells from cord blood are most critically useful in the treatment of genetic disease. If your child has a genetic disease, then that disease, by definition, is already present in his cord blood. This means your child often can’t use his own cord blood to be healed. He needs cord blood from some other child, a child free from the genetic disease in question.

Cord blood is most useful when it is in a public registry, available for anyone’s use. At the moment, there are only about twenty public cord blood banks in the country. Begin investigating this resource. Check with your local hospital and find out if they participate in a cord blood registry. Notify the papers about this resource and start a campaign to get your hospital on board. Registries generally require a few months lead time in order to properly track donated cord blood, so if you are pregnant or likely to become pregnant soon and would like to donate, you need to start investigating now.

Would the American Red Cross be likely to start storing cord blood? To this point, they haven’t shown an interest, but if enough people ask, they might change their mind. It’s worth investigating.

Donation of cord blood is completely moral, completely useful, and doesn’t harm your child a bit. Your son or daughter can save another child’s life from the moment his own life in the larger world begins. What a great birthday present to give him! What a great accomplishment for her!

So, get on your soapbox now and keep your eye on the news in the future. When, years later, it comes time for the tooth fairy to visit, you might want to save those teeth. Reuters reports that Mr. Howard Morris of Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia says the pulp in the teeth children shed naturally is more accessible and richer in stem cells than adult tissue. Dr. Stan Gronthos agrees, "They usually go to the tooth fairy and that's the end of it, but we can use them. One stem cell can be grown in culture into a colony of thousands of cells, then into millions of cells. They can regenerate into connective tissue such as bone, cartilage, fat and muscle."

Isn’t God good?

For more information on public cord blood banks, see

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