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Around 400 Cordlife parents attend town hall to explore resources for damaged cord blood units

SINGAPORE – About 400 affected Cordlife parents attended a town hall meeting on May 3 to explore possible legal recourse over failings at the private cord blood bank.

Improper storage of umbilical cord blood units at the company has damaged about 7,500 such units so far.

Processes at the company have been in the spotlight after it was revealed on Nov. 30 that units of cryopreserved umbilical cord blood in seven of its 22 storage tanks were exposed to suboptimal storage temperatures. Umbilical cord blood units should be stored at temperatures no higher than -150 degrees C.

Around 7,500 units of cord blood in two tanks and a dry container (a container used to transport cord blood units at extremely low temperatures) have been deemed unviable and unlikely to be suitable for stem cell transplants. .

The families had approached Withers KhattarWong for the firm’s legal opinion, as frustrations with Cordlife’s handling of the crisis were brewing.

The town hall was led by three of the law firm’s partners and was held at their office at 18 Cross Street. Parents could also attend the meeting online.

Those who attended described a lively discussion that lasted more than two and a half hours. While attorneys did not provide legal advice at the town hall, they answered questions from concerned and frustrated parents about the legal options available to them.

The international law firm is now in the midst of recruiting affected parents for a potential representative action lawsuit, similar to a class action lawsuit, commonly filed in the United States. Singapore does not have a US-style collective action mechanism.

A class action lawsuit allows a few plaintiffs to bring a case to court on behalf of an entire group of plaintiffs, except those who have chosen not to participate. In a representative action, all plaintiffs must consent to be represented.

These types of lawsuits are rare in Singapore because they are complex to organize.

A parent who helped organize the town hall, Ms. Shanta Sundarason, said several people face different problems.

Some have cord blood units considered unviable for stem cell transplants; others have been told their units are at low risk of damage and are still awaiting the results of further testing. There are also parents who have been told that their cord blood units are not affected, but have lost confidence in Cordlife.

Parents are also seeking different outcomes, from compensation to demanding more answers and accountability from Cordlife.

“First of all, what lawyers can do now is start to understand what contracts state and their limitations, because everyone’s contract may be different. They should also try to understand what solutions could be offered to different parties,” Ms Sundarason said.

Other Cordlife customers have already taken legal action of their own.