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."
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.
Contributing editor Amy Gates also blogs about natural living, attachment parenting and most recently, her life dealing with an anxiety disorder, at Crunchy Domestic Goddess.
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