Open Access Open Badges Debate

Ethical issues of unrelated hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in adult thalassemia patients

Giovanni Caocci1, Giorgio La Nasa1, Ernesto d'Aloja23, Adriana Vacca1, Eugenia Piras1, Michela Pintor23, Roberto Demontis2 and Salvatore Pisu23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Hematology, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

2 Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

3 Mediterranean Clinical Center of Bioethics, University of Cagliari-Sardegna Ricerche, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Ethics 2011, 12:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-12-4

Published: 8 March 2011



Beta thalassemia major is a severe inherited form of hemolytic anemia that results from ineffective erythropoiesis. Allogenic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) remains the only potentially curative therapy. Unfortunately, the subgroup of adult thalassemia patients with hepatomegaly, portal fibrosis and a history of irregular iron chelation have an elevated risk for transplantation-related mortality that is currently estimated to be about 29 percent.


Thalassemia patients may be faced with a difficult choice: they can either continue conventional transfusion and iron chelation therapy or accept the high mortality risk of HSCT in the hope of obtaining complete recovery.

Throughout the decision making process, every effort should be made to sustain and enhance autonomous choice. The concept of conscious consent becomes particularly important. The patient must be made fully aware of the favourable and adverse outcomes of HSCT. Although it is the physician's duty to illustrate the possibility of completely restoring health, considerable emphasis should be put on the adverse effects of the procedure. The physician also needs to decide whether the patient is eligible for HSCT according to the "rule of descending order". The patient must be given full details on self-care and fundamental lifestyle changes and be fully aware that he/she will be partly responsible for the outcome.


Only if all the aforesaid conditions are satisfied can it be considered reasonable to propose unrelated HSCT as a potential cure for high risk thalassemia patients.