Babies’ foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

The question of whether or not to circumcise their newborn baby boy is often the first of many life-altering decisions parents makes on behalf of their baby. Whether you find yourself for or against circumcision is not the subject of this article (though it could be a subset of it). The issue in question is whether or not it’s ethical to use babies’ foreskins in the making of cosmetics.

What happens to a baby boy’s foreskin after it’s removed in the hospital? Naturally, you might think that it is disposed of with other “medical waste,” but as I recently learned, that’s not always the case. There is, in fact, big money to be made in the foreskin business, not just the money gained from the removal, but from what becomes of the foreskin after the fact. Laura Hopper, a midwife who blogs at Alternative Birth Services recently wrote that wrinkle treatments are being made using American babies’ foreskins. Hopper quotes two articles, both detailing the use of baby foreskin in the cosmetic industry. From Acroposthion:

The most disturbing and alarming [controversy] is in the unethical trafficking of neonate foreskins. Not only do parents of North American baby boys have to pay between $200 to $300 to obstetricians to circumcise their boys that no sooner are the circumcised foreskins cut off that they are sold on to bio-engineering and cosmetics companies by the hospitals.

The resale value of neonate foreskins is astronomically dizzying in that from one boy’s foreskin can be grown bio-engineered skin in a lab to the size of a football field. That’s 4 acres of new skin or around 200,000 units of manufactured skin, which is enough skin to cover about 250 people and sells at $3,000 a square foot. Considering that there are 1.25 million neonate foreskins circumcised each year in the U.S alone this translates to one of the most lucrative trades, if not THE most lucrative trade in human body parts ever in the history of humanity.

Hopper ends her post saying, “Wake up people, your children are being exploited for profit.”

I have to believe that many parents wouldn’t stand for such a thing if they knew it was going on. Although I chose to leave my son’s penis intact, I would never think to ask my doctor, “What is going to happen with my son’s foreskin after it’s removed?” But surely parents have to consent to this sort of thing, don’t they? Is it listed in the fine print somewhere on the parental surgical consent form? If it’s not, is this ethical?

Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play seemed shocked herself at the news when she wrote WTF? Baby Boys’ Circumcised Foreskins Used for Wrinkle Treatments and said, “Glad my son’s foreskin is still where it belongs on his penis and not injected into some old woman’s face looking for the fountain of youth.”

According to Summer Minor who blogs at Wired for Noise, the use of baby foreskin to make cosmetics isn’t anything new. Back in 2007, she wrote Human Foreskins are Big Business for Cosmetics.

Foreskin fibroblasts are used to grow and cultivate new cells that are then used for a variety of purposes. From the fibroblasts new skin for burn victims can be grown, skin to cover diabetic ulcers, and controversially it is also used to make cosmetic creams and collagens. One foreskin can be used for decades to grow $100,000 worth of fibroblasts.

Minor reports that back in 2007 concern was growing over the ethics behind using human foreskin for cosmetic purposes. “One such cosmetic company, SkinMedica is raising a stir over their use of the growth hormone left over from growing artificial skin from foreskin fibroblasts.”

SkinMedica, which sells for over $100 for a 63-oz. bottle, was made famous by Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. Winfrey in fact has promoted SkinMedica several times on her show and website. Discussions about the ethics of using human foreskins for vanity have been circulating on the web but there has not been a response from Winfrey on this debate.

According to an article by Amanda Euringer on The Tyee, “in a discussion on Mothering.com, one querent asked, ‘If the cream was made from the bi-product of baby afro-American clitoral skin, would Oprah still be promoting it?’ There’s no answer to that question on Mothering or Winfrey’s site, and Winfrey declined The Tyee’s request for an interview.” Go figure.

There are uses for removed foreskin that may seem slightly less controversial like using it to create bio-engineered skin for burns, persistent leg ulcers, bed sores, reconstructive surgery and other skin problems. The Foreskin Mafia writes, “Now, circumcision really does have health benefits, only it’s not the baby boys who are losing parts of their penises who benefit.”

In case you are wondering if your cosmetics were made from foreskins, it’s not as easy as looking for the word “foreskin” in the ingredients. After all the foreskin is not actually an ingredient, but is used as a culture to grow other cells which are then used in the cosmetic. The ingredient you are looking for is likely called Tissue Nutrient Solution or TNS™, human collagen or human fibroblast.

What do you think? If you circumcised your son, do you care what happened to his foreskin after it was removed? Is it ethical to use babies’ foreskins for cosmetic purposes? Is this money maker part of a conspiracy to encourage Americans to continue circumcising their sons?

Thanks to Heather Farley who blogs at It’s All About the Hat for bringing this issue to my attention in the first place.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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One year later – Julian’s (footling breech) home birth story

NaBloPoMo – Day 28

It’s been just over a year since my baby boy made his amazing entrance into the world, and yet, I never posted his birth story on my blog. So here it is one year later – in it’s full, unedited (LONG) glory (altered only to change the midwives’ names to first initial) – for your reading pleasure. 🙂 I think you birth junkies out there will especially enjoy it. 🙂

Julian - 1 1/2 hours old - 11/23/06

Julian Emerson’s birth story

Recorded on Nov. 29 and Dec. 11, 2006

My labor began around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, (41 weeks to the day) when I woke up to a real contraction, not the typical toning contractions I’d been having for the past several months. This was the night after I went in for some serious acupuncture (with electronic stimulation) at the acupuncture college to bring on labor. I was excited when I had another and yet another contraction and it started to sink in that I was in early labor.

I mentioned that I thought I was in early labor to Jody when he came to bed around 2 a.m. He got me my HypnoBirthing Rainbow Relaxation c.d. sometime during the night and I listened to it with my headphones on to help me stay focused and relaxed. I went through most of the night sleeping in between contractions. When I did have one, I breathed through it and reflected on something I’d read on a Mothering.com message board. One mama said that each time she had a contraction, she thought of her body giving the baby a big hug. That thought made me smile when I read it and so I focused on all the hugs my body was giving my baby for the last time while he was in utero.

I woke up a bit before 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23). Jody and Ava were still sleeping. I continued to have contractions though they weren’t really regularly spaced. I decided to go have some breakfast and watch TV. I had some yogurt, peanut butter toast and Pregnancy Tea and watched a bit of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while I breathed through contractions. I found the TV to be a bit distracting so I turned it off and mostly lay on the couch. When I got up and moved around, my contractions picked up, but while I laid on the couch, they slowed down a bit. I was feeling pretty tired so I decided that hanging out on the couch was a good thing for now, to save up my energy for when I really needed it.

I called K, my midwife, around 10 a.m. and told her that I was in labor and what was going on with me. She said to check in every few hours – like around 1 p.m. – and let her know how I was doing. She also said she would probably come by to check on me later in the day and take my blood pressure and draw my blood so she could make sure that all was going well with me and there were no signs of HELLP syndrome (which I developed when in labor with Ava). In the meantime, she said I should go eat a big breakfast.

Jody came downstairs (and Ava soon after) and made eggs, turkey bacon and toast. I didn’t feel much like eating, but it tasted good and I slowly ate it all.

After breakfast and watching some of the parade on TV with Ava, I was still feeling really tired, so I decided to go back up to the bedroom and take a nap. That was around noon.

Before I went to sleep, I briefly talked to my sister Carrie on the phone and told her I was in early labor, but I had no idea if the baby would be born that day or when. I just wanted to give her a heads-up since she was planning on being here during the labor (once we needed her) and birth to watch Ava.

Again, I slept between contractions while I napped, but somewhere in that hour or so that I lay in bed, my contractions shifted significantly. They started to get very intense and I had to start vocalizing (or moaning) to get through them. I called out to Jody and told him that things were getting really intense and right around then the phone rang and Jody answered it. It was K (midwife) saying she was on her way by to see how things were going with me. Jody mentioned that it was good she was coming because I had just said that things were getting intense. (I later figured out that I must have been in “transition” during that time.)

I don’t recall if I asked Jody to apply counter-pressure to my back around that time or if he just instinctively did it, but it helped a lot to relieve the back labor I was experiencing.

K arrived around 1:10 p.m. She took my blood pressure, which was normal. (She never got a chance to draw my blood, but it turned out not to matter.) Then I had another contraction which I vocalized through and told her that it really hurt. She wanted to check me then to see how dilated I was. I was thinking that I hoped I was at least 5 cm dilated so that I could get into the birthing pool (which hadn’t been set up yet) or this was going to be a very, very long labor. I can’t remember if she said I was fully dilated when she checked me (though she later told me that I was complete), but she commented that the head was still really high. She felt around a bit more and then excused herself. (I found out later that that was when she discovered what she was feeling was limbs and that the baby was now breech. She excused herself so she could call A, the assisting midwife, and tell her to get to my house ASAP.)

K came back in the room and whispered to Jody that she had felt feet while she was checking my dilation. He didn’t quite realize what that meant at the time. At some point he said something aloud about the baby’s feet, which I heard and replied “feet??” (although I don’t remember this). And K said yes, the baby is breech, which I remember. I didn’t have any weird reaction to this news. I thought I remembered reading stories of babies being born vaginally in the breech position in “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” so I knew it could be done. I wasn’t fearful at all. It was all just very matter of fact in my mind – the baby is breech and I’m going to have to get him out.

Somewhere in there, Jody called Carrie (three times) to come to the house. The last time he talked to her, she said she would be here in 20 minutes, but Jody said at the rate things were going that might be too late. So in the meantime, Ava hung out with me, K and Jody in the bedroom. She never seemed scared or worried for me and I think it helped a LOT that we had watched birth videos and read the “Welcome With Love” book (about a home birth) many times in preparation for the birth. In the book they mention that sometimes moms have to yell and scream and make a lot of noise when babies are born and I am thankful that it said that since I ended up making a LOT of noise myself – something I didn’t expect because I never got vocal while giving birth to Ava. At one point, K asked Ava if she could go downstairs and get her purse for her. Ava did it without missing a beat. She was a great helper.

Anyway, I think it was after K left the room to call A that I felt the first urge to push. It was a completely involuntary urge and I yelled out, “I need to push!” I remember K yelling back to go with whatever my body was telling me to do. I think it was on the next contraction or the one after that that my water broke, all over the bed. I had not planned on giving birth in bed, and because things had progressed so quickly at the end, we hadn’t even put a waterproof cover down. I remember thinking, “Oh no! I’m soaking our new mattress!” (Our mattress was only six months old. Thankfully, it cleaned up and dried out nicely.)

The baby’s feet were born first without too much pushing on my part. Jody left the room during that time and I yelled to K, “Where is he going?!” furious because he was no longer applying counter-pressure to my back. She said, “He’s getting the camera.” And I yelled, “I don’t care about pictures!” He did snap a few of the baby’s feet coming out, but only one turned out because K’s hand was in the way of the others.

Jody called the professional photographer we hired to photograph the birth around the time I started pushing, but got her voicemail. By the time she called back, the baby had been born. (We opted to have her take family pictures a few weeks later instead.)

Carrie arrived after his feet were born and took Ava downstairs since things were very intense in the bedroom.

After his feet and legs came out, K said I needed to move to the end of the bed, so that gravity would be on our side. I said, “No” emphatically, not wanting to move a muscle. K said I *had* to move, so she and Jody picked me up and scooted me to the foot of the bed. She then told Jody that we needed to get into a supported squat position, so he held me under my arms while I began to bear down with everything I had.

I started out pushing with contractions, but it didn’t take long for K to say she wanted me to push whether I was having a contraction or not. I’ve heard enough birth stories to know this meant that I needed to get the baby out ASAP, so I pushed and pushed, taking breaks just long enough to catch my breath.

While his body was being born, A (the assisting midwife) arrived.

I don’t remember birthing him as being painful per se, but it was really, really intense work. I vocalized through every push and couldn’t imagine doing it without making noise. I think I opened my eyes once and then closed them again so I could focus on pushing. I also remember moving my right hand to the top of my belly. It helped me feel more connected with the baby and the job we both were working on.

Once his body was born (but his head still inside me), at K’s urging I pushed with everything I had to get his head to come out. I remember wondering if I was pushing enough or if I would be able to do it, but his head emerged with one really hard push.

Minutes after Julian’s breech home birth - 11/23/06Mommy and daddy look at Julian - 11/23/06Our son, Julian Emerson, fully entered the world at 2:14 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, after about 13 hours of labor, only one of which was really intense, and about 45 minutes of pushing. It was approximately 1 hour after K had arrived to our house.

It turned out that Julian’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck three times. It is for that reason, my midwife and I believe, that he ended up turning into a breech position in the days or hours before he was born. It was as if he “knew” he couldn’t safely be born head-down with the cord as it was, so he flipped to a safer position – in an act of self-preservation.

Also, I later learned that his right arm was tucked back behind his head and K had to reach inside me and pull it down so that he could be born without damaging it or getting stuck. She also reached in while his feet were being born to make sure they both came out together and one didn’t get wedged in.

Jody and Ava cut Julian’s umbilical cord - 11/23/06Julian scored a measly 3 on his first Apgar, then an 8 on the second one done 5 minutes later. A gave him a few puffs of air mouth-to-mouth to help get him breathing, while they encouraged us to talk to our baby. It didn’t take long for him to start breathing, and in the meantime, he was still getting oxygen from the umbilical cord that was left attached to the placenta until it stopped pulsing. Jody and Ava cut the umbilical cord together a little over an hour after he was born.

Julian weighed in at 9 lbs., 8 oz., was 22 inches long, and had a 15 inch head. What a big boy!

After the intensity of that birth and such a large baby, I ended up with only a first-degree tear, requiring four stitches. Not bad at all.

Amy and Julian after breech home birth - 11/23/06Giving birth to a baby in the breech position felt so different from birthing a head-down baby (as Ava was). With Ava, once her head was out, it felt like the rest of her just slid right out. With Julian, I felt like I had to work for every ounce of him to be born – saving the hardest part – his head – for last.

It was an amazing, incredible and very intense experience, but, if you ask me, it could not have turned out more perfectly. We have so much to be thankful for. We have a healthy baby boy and I had a great home birth with our amazing midwife. It is a Thanksgiving Day our family will never forget!

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Related Post:
How we made the decision to have a home birth in the first place: Planning for a home birth

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