New mother wins battle with Hong Kong hospital to keep her placenta

Melissa Grenham plans to convert organ into capsules for consumption and calls for government policy on issue of placenta release

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 7:24am

An American woman has won her battle with a Hong Kong public hospital over the right to keep her placenta.

Melissa Grenham collected her placenta from the Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam on Wednesday after the organ was held in a hospital freezer for a week while government officials made a decision about whether she would be allowed to keep it.

”I’m absolutely ecstatic – very happy and very relieved,” said Grenham, speaking from a taxi on her way home from the hospital.

“I’ve been chipping away at these bureaucratic barriers for months dealing with multiple government departments. It’s been a frustrating process and it’s great to have it come to a close with the right outcome.”

Grenham, 38, gave birth to a boy at the hospital on August 27. She plans to carry out placenta encapsulation, a practice where the organ is converted into capsules for consumption.

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

The final hurdle to her receiving the placenta was submitting a hepatitis C test, a request made by the Hospital Authority after the baby was born. It took four days for the results of the test, required by the authority in the interest of public health, to become available.

“I got a wonderful reception at the obstetrics ward at Queen Mary,” Grenham said.

“The officials from the HA (Hospital Authority) and Queen Mary who I had been dealing with were there to meet me in person along with a few members of hospital staff who were very curious about what was going on.”

It is the first time the hospital has approved a placenta claim.

“It was a learning process for all concerned, and I’m delighted with the final result,” Grenham said. ”Hopefully, now that we’ve been through the process, it will be easier for other women in the future.”

The placenta will take 24 hours to defrost before it is encapsulated. There is little scientific research on the subject of placentophagy – the act of consuming the placenta – and few Hong Kong-based doctors or health 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.

Grenham said government policy on the issue is the next step but said banning the release of placentas across the board would be “harmful” and may force women to go down the expensive path of litigation.

”It’s important that the HA (Hospital Authority) goes down the policy path on this issue but if the policy is to ban all placenta releases – both in private and public hospitals – then that would be incredibly upsetting. I don’t want this case to jeopardise the chances of other women having the right to their placentas.”

While Grenham said the whole process was stressful she said the past week had been spent “focusing on my baby.”

“Women are programmed to do that, to take care of the little one,” she said.

While not commenting on whether a policy would now be introduced to govern the issue of placenta releases in Hong Kong hospitals – both private and public – the Hospital Authority (HA) said on Wednesday it would continue to consider similar requests on a case-by-case basis.

“The HA will ensure that any decision made will make sure it complies with local laws and the rules and regulations of relevant government departments to safeguard public health and public interest.”

Human rights lawer Michael Vidler said the decision, while a victory for the woman, highlighted government shortcomings.

“This is a very happy day for the lady concerned. This victory has however no doubt  been won after a great deal of effort  and anguish.  This could have been avoided in the first place with the application of a little bit of common sense and the timely recognition of women’s rights. Sadly this quality is often in short supply in government bodies and official institutions,” Vidler said.

“Hopefully now, other women who wish to recover their own placenta for consumption by themselves for their own health and that of their baby, can do so without delay."