• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:05am
NewsHong Kong

Mother-to-be locked in battle with Hong Kong hospital over right to keep placenta

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 6:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 9:58am

A heavily pregnant American woman living in Hong Kong is entangled in a bureaucratic battle with a public hospital over the fate of her placenta.

Melissa Grenham, who is 39 weeks pregnant with her second child, expects to give birth at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam in the next few days.

She wants to convert her placenta - the organ that delivers nutrients to the fetus - into capsules for consumption, a practice known as placenta encapsulation. But hospital bosses have said no and insisted it would be incinerated as "medical waste".

While there is little scientific research on placentophagy - ingestion of the afterbirth - the practice is increasingly popular with new mothers, who claim it wards off postnatal depression, boosts milk production and helps recovery after birth.

The placenta has religious significance in some cultures and is used in traditional Chinese medicine. But few Hong Kong doctors and wellness experts would discuss placentophagy.

Grenham told the hospital in June that she wished to keep her placenta. But her request has become a hot potato, pushed from one department to another.

The failure to get an answer has left the 38-year-old frustrated and angry. And time is running out.

DON'T MISS: Human placenta being sold in Hong Kong's Chinese medicine shops, despite ban

"I could go into labour any minute, so it's critical someone makes a decision," Grenham said.

"What we have here is a grey area in the public hospital system. Private hospitals are allowing and assisting mothers in retaining and removing their placentas, while the public system is complicating matters by refusing to release placentas, with government bodies at odds over who is responsible for the removal and handling of the placenta."

Grenham says the Hospital Authority is the biggest hurdle, having refused her request on the grounds of "safety and health".

Its spokesman said: "The authority has to comply with the law … as well as the relevant government rules and regulations … to ensure public health and public interests are safeguarded."

But Grenham says neither the Health Department, which oversees the Hospital Authority, nor the Environmental Protection Department raised objections.

"I'm going around in circles," said Grenham, who wants to encapsulate her placenta because she suffered severe fatigue after the birth of her first child.

Since last year, Queen Mary - one of eight public hospitals with maternity wards - has received four requests for the release of placentas, including Grenham's. None were granted. It does not have earlier statistics. The authority said it did not collect statistics on placenta requests from other public hospitals.

Unclaimed placentas are classed as medical waste and disposed of at the government's chemical-waste treatment centre at Tsing Yi.

Some private hospitals - including Matilda International Hospital on The Peak, Canossa Hospital in Mid-Levels and Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley - say they allow mothers to keep placentas.

But "forcing women to go private is economic discrimination", Grenham said. Giving birth privately can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, against a few hundred in public hospitals.

She said refusing her was a violation of her human rights: "It's my body and I should be able to do with it what I want."

Human-rights lawyer Mike Vidler agreed that a woman was entitled to keep her body parts. "Bureaucratic conservatism is at work if the public hospitals in Hong Kong don't allow women to claim their own body parts … If there's no danger to public health, then I don't see an issue."

French woman Jeanne Hauguel opted for Matilda after hearing about problems claiming placentas in the public system. Australian-born Kathy Kitzis had a home birth in the city in 2012 to guarantee she got her placenta, which she turned into pills.

A 40-year-old New Zealand woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says that in 2012 she received approval from Queen Mary Hospital and the New Zealand government to take the placenta of her first child back to her mother's hometown to be buried. Maoris bury the placenta as a symbol of honouring the relationship between humans and the earth.

However, she claims the hospital then disposed of her placenta without explanation. "I wish I had fought harder, but I was exhausted at the time," she said.

Hong Kong-based firms A Mother's Touch and Birth Story provide placenta advice and workshops, with costs ranging from HK$400 to HK$3,500.

Liz Purnell-Webb, director of A Mother's Touch, says a simple solution would be a registration system so mothers who wanted to claim placentas could sign a disclaimer.

Judy Xu, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine at Oriental Health in Sheung Wan, said placenta was a nurturing medicine. "It can nurture the blood, it can enhance your qi, and it's been used for anti-ageing and boosting energy levels."

For legal reasons, Xu said her clinic only used sheep placenta in treatments. "The human one, from a medical perspective, is good," she said. "However, there are a lot of other issues, like moral issues, in taking another person's placenta."

Placenta encapsulation is also growing in popularity among celebrities. In 2012, Mad Men star January Jones said she had turned her placenta into pills, while reality-television star Kim Kardashian plans to do the same.

In June, the European Food Safety Authority classified human-placenta products as "a novel food", regulating the sale of them.

The sale of human placenta remains illegal in Hong Kong. However, an investigation by the Post found placenta available under the counter in several traditional Chinese medicine shops.


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This article is now closed to comments

HA got much better things to do, such as, arrrrr, saving lives and providing good health care for the public. The issue isn't whether she's American or not. There're many other things that public delivery ward don't do and as a father-to-be you take it and respect what they are, such as no c-section unless complication, no more than 1 person in the delivery room during laboring, etc. If she's really that desperate, go private.
She can go private and keep her placenta. It's that simple. But she chooses not to.
This is so very silly. Junk science meets an inflexible bureaucracy. Nobody wins, and poor people still have to wait for months for serious operations.
My suggestion is to go private and pay for the service which you require. Public hospital service is for those who cannot afford private. I am a tax payer in HK and I have been using QM private clinic because I know it cuts down my waiting time and I got a dedicated attention. I heard that they use money generated from the private service to subsidise the public. If so, it is a good thing.
Which insurance company do you use? As far as I know, most insurance companies do not reimburse for prgnancy.
I agree that for the average pregnancy, if you can afford it, go private. However, for complicated pregnancies, HA may be a better choice. My wife's second pregnancy was very complicated and every private obstetrician we saw, including 2 personal friends, advised us to have our child delivered at QMH. They were indeed very professional. I dare say my wife may not have survived if she had gone private.
"So Americans cannot use the public hospitals? Will they get a refund on their taxes since they cannot us the public services? Hmmmmm."

These public hospitals are really overburdened, and everyone knows it. Priority should be given to locals; particularly in the lower income bracket. I'm an expat too, and I use private hospitals only. It doesn't cost me an arm and a leg either. My health insurance covered everything, and this is health insurance I paid for personally. Compared to health insurance premiums in the USA, the premiums in HK are VERY modest.

If she planned things out better, then maybe she wouldn't be such a huge burden on the over extended public health care system.

And no she's not entitled for a refund. If she earns a salary, then she is required to pay tax in accordance to the law.
She's just trying to test the system.
If she really cares about her placenta or health .... there are always other solutions and other hospitals to go to.... or even have her baby at home.... Or go back to where ever she came from to have the baby.... and keep her placenta....
Go private, if she cannot travel... ( however, should have planned for it...)
But from the looks of it, this lady is testing the system and trying to get as much publicity as she can.....
"American Woman battling with hospital for the right to eat her own placenta" - And the same people have the audacity to slam Chinese for eating dog meat!
You want to keep your Placenta, by all means, let her keep it. What's the big deal! She should also come off her high horse and realize the Public Hospital System is there for people who really need it, expat or local. If you can pay your own way, then do it. Discrimination goes both ways.
Having said that, to all the quacks and pseudoscience lovers out there, get a real education and learn the discipline of being Health Professional through tried and tested means.
The placenta is part of her body, so she has the right to keep it. Having said that, the public hospitals make it very clear that they will not release it, it is not a huge surprise. At QMH you get a free delivery + pre/post natal care. If you want "frills" you have to go private. I too had my placenta turned into supplements, I delivered at Adventist Hospital. There are a lot of harsh and judgemental comments around, and I do admit, consuming your own placenta sounds crazy and disgusting. It is very common in many cultures and it is the best multi vitamin for your body, as it is your own. I highly recommend it!! :) My message to this lady is: I'm on your side, it is not fair, but these are the QMH rules... Don't get too worked up, as this won't do you any good at this stage. The most important thing is your baby. Best of luck and have a safe delivery!



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