Woman fighting for right to keep placenta has baby; disputed organ ‘chilling’ in fridge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 10:12am

An American woman locked in a battle with a public hospital over the right to keep her placenta has given birth – and says the disputed organ is now “chilling” in a hospital fridge as she awaits a decision.

Melissa Grenham, 38, gave birth to a boy on Wednesday morning at the Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

The Queen Mary has promised not to destroy the placenta, the organ that delivers nutrients to the foetus. It can remain in a fridge for three days before it needs to be frozen.

“I’ve received approval from all the correct government departments. I’ve followed all the correct protocol, but I’m still in limbo,” Grenham said from her hospital bed.

“My little boy and I are doing well, snuggled up on the ward, but obviously I want a decision as soon as possible.”

The saga began in June when Grenham’s request to keep her placenta was rejected by the hospital on grounds of “public safety”.

She wants to carry out placenta encapsulation, a practice where the organ is converted into capsules for consumption. There is little scientific research on the subject of placentophagy, and few Hong Kong-based doctors and wellness experts are willing to talk about it.

But the practice is growing in popularity among new mothers who say it wards off post-natal depression and increases milk production.

It’s also gaining in popularity among celebrities. In 2012, Mad Men star January Jones had her placenta turned into pills, while reality television star Kim Kardashian plans to do the same.

Grenham, a Hong Kong resident, says a mother’s claim for her placenta does not add extra cost to a hospital or add extra work to hospital staff.

The Hospital Authority said it has received four requests for the release of placentas at Queen Mary since last year, including Grenham’s. None were granted.

It did not provide figures on requests made before last year or figures on requests made to other public hospitals.

However, a source with knowledge of previous cases says one placenta request was approved by the Queen Mary in January 2011, by a mother who had it encapsulated.

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

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

Before the birth, Grenham said refusing her request was a violation of her human rights: “It’s my body and I should be able to do with it what I want.”