The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends public banking over private, favoring private banking only when there is already an affected family member or a disease in the family that would benefit from a transplant. Many consumer cord blood banking organizations do not support one type of banking over another but recommend that parents be informed of the pros and cons of the various options.
According to Frances Verter, founder and director of the nonprofit organization, Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, the overall benefits outweigh the chance it may never be used. And, because there are only 17 public banks in the U.S. that tend to collect units from nearby hospitals, many families may not be in an area where public bank donation is as accessible, she said. That makes it more difficult for many parents to understand their options when it comes to choosing between public and private banking.
"The only problem is that there are a limited number of places that accept donations," said Verter. "So the downside is that lots of parents want to donate, but it requires money to process the donation. There's a certain infrastructure involved that not a lot of centers have in place."
According to Charis Ober, co-founder of Save the Cord Foundation, besides the limited number of public banks available for parents to choose, it is often difficult to distinguish between the various options that individual private companies offer.
"Everything looks great on the Internet, but there are great differences between all of the private banks," said Ober. "So you really need to do your homework to make sure the bank you choose is right for you."
Many states require that expectant parents be informed about both public and private banking options before deciding which, if any, they would like to choose, according to Verter. Regardless, Verter said, many parents do find it difficult to navigate between claims made by private bankers to get parents to choose their firm over another.
"If [the marketing] gets excessive then of course it's not healthy. You can't blame a company for wanting to market," said Verter. "At the same time the private marketing helps the public banks too. When private firms pay to market banking, it benefits both types of banking."
"I think every bank should be upfront about costs and factual about what it is and what it isn't," said Ober. "You need to be a cautious discerning consumer. In cord blood, you only have a small window of time to collect it. So you really need to educate yourself on the pluses and minuses."
Both Viacord and Cord Blood Registry state that for most of the conditions listed in their marketing materials they are referring to possible future uses for cord blood and not implying these diseases are currently being treated with cord blood stem cells or that you can use your own cord blood stem cells for all of the conditions listed.
But, in a particularly vulnerable time for most families, including the Dones', Tracey Dones said many parents like her are not fully informed on the difference.
"[Private banking] was the life boat that didn't float," she said.