Healing Menstrual Blood
Well, I got your attention with that title, didn’t I? Perusing the internet the other day I came across an article on Time Magazine’s Health Section that was interesting, to say the least. Remember all the controversy regarding stem cell research? Advocates like Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox and even Nancy Reagan shouted its cause.
The controversy comes from the use of aborted fetuses for the purposes of research. While I highly doubt that many women would ever undergo an abortion in order to produce stem cells for research, the religious right argued that their use in stem cell research was immoral and that federal funding for such research should be disallowed. In fact, they believe that such stem cell research shouldn’t be performed.
I have mixed feelings on the subject myself, for while I’m ultimately pro-choice for reasons that I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, I have real misgivings about abortion. My feelings are that the procedure should be safe, legal, and extremely, extremely rare. That being said, I couldn’t see why an aborted embryo should be relegated to mere biohazard status when it could possibly be used for research to save or improve the human life of someone who has already been born.
It turns out that there are other alternative methods of procuring stem cells for research. One of those alternative methods is through the use of human placenta and also through the use of menstrual blood. There are other ways, but their efficacy is questioned, and I don’t feel like enough of a science expert to be able to explain them.
If you’re squeamish about body fluids at all, then you’ve probably already stopped reading this article. Just in case, though, you haven’t stopped reading you might want to stop reading right now.
Here’s how it works. To store menstrual blood for future research a woman inserts a cup shaped like a tampon into her vagina on her heaviest flow day for approximately 3 hours in order to preserve a specimen of 10 to 20 milliliters of blood. That is then poured into a container and shipped back to a lab to be used or stored for future use. As I understand it some women are paying a fee of $499 and then an additional $99 per year to store their own menstrual blood for future use.
The stored cells can be thawed and used to help in the treatment of breast cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s or any one of a number of possible future health problems for you or for a beloved family member. That’s the selling point, anyway.
I wonder if anyone will ever think to so conveniently package a storage method for women who just wish to donate menstrual blood in order to help others. A woman has an average of 500 periods in her lifetime. That’s a lot of stem cells from just one woman.
Imagine if you convinced as many women to harvest menstrual blood as the women who donate blood to the Red Cross annually. How many people could benefit from stem cell’s curative properties? How much progress could be made towards research to find a cure for life threatening diseases? And the best part is that I can’t think of a single moral or ethical issue that anyone could come up with for not using the stem cells gathered from menstrual blood or umbilical cords from full term pregnancies.
I doubt this will ever catch on like wildfire because of people’s initial gross out factor. However, it’s not as though anyone is asking for someone to ingest actual menstrual blood in order to facilitate healing. The stem cells are extracted from “processed” menstrual blood. Given the strange things that a lot of quack “doctors” have recommended as “cures” for desperate terminal patients, it wouldn’t shock me if some terminally ill patients would be willing to drink menstrual blood if it meant the difference between life and death.
It’s kind of cool to know that it’s an option, storing menstrual blood to harvest stem cells, that is. Instead of throwing your period out with the trash, you could use it to preserve or improve someone’s life. That someone might even, someday, be yourself.
Entry filed under: Death, Ethics, Family Planning, Health, Science, Technology, Women's Rights. Tags: Alzheimer's disease, Biology, Biotechnology, Christopher Reeve, Menstruation, Michael J. Fox, Nancy Reagan, Stem cell.