PORTLAND, Ore. – New mothers will now be able to leave Oregon hospitals with two bundles of joy – one in a car seat, the other in a cooler.
The first, of course, is the baby. The second, thanks to one of the more curious laws that went into effect with the new year, is the placenta.
Many cultures have long revered the meaty organ, whose chief duty is to provide nourishment and oxygen to the fetus. Traditional Cambodian healers call the placenta “the globe of the origin of the soul” and believe it must be buried properly to protect the newborn.
Today, an increasing number of women across the country call the placenta lunch, or at least an important nutritional supplement. These new mothers, including “Mad Men’s” January Jones, believe that eating the tissue in pill form, raw, or perhaps in a smoothie can help ease postpartum depression.
The problem with what is officially known as “human maternal placentophagy” – beyond the fact that there are no studies proving its medical value – is that guidelines for dealing with the placenta differ from state to state and even from hospital to hospital.
One person’s sacred object is another’s medical waste.
Which is where Oregon state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer comes in.
The Portland Democrat, who has a master’s degree in public health, said she was first approached about the placenta’s possibilities and problems by Dr. Melvin A. Kohn, who was Oregon’s public health director at the time.
Kohn is married to a midwife, who told him that “there were a lot of women who wanted to take their placentas home from the hospital,” for consumption, burial or other ritual purposes, Keny-Guyer said. “But there was no kind of uniformity about it. There’s a lot of Caucasians who believe they should have the ability to take home the placenta. There are also strong Asian and Native American traditions.”
But as Kohn and Keny-Guyer worked to make their state’s official placenta practices more culturally sensitive, she said, they stumbled upon an even thornier issue: “We found out from the legislative counsel that it is illegal under Oregon state law to allow people to take their placentas.”
So early in 2013, Keny-Guyer introduced HB 2612, which would let new mothers or their representatives take the placenta home from the hospital under most circumstances. The bill passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate, was signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber in May and took effect at midnight Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the placenta-centrism of Oregon – and the greater Portland area in particular – is in sync or at odds with the region’s reputation as a hub of vegan and locavore culture.
One thing, however, is undeniable, said Jodi Selander, founder of an international organization called Placenta Benefits, which tracks and promotes placenta consumption in pill form: “Oregon is very progressive, and I just love that they’re making it a legal right” for a woman to lay claim to her own placenta “as opposed to having it held hostage in the hospital because of the fear of liability.”
Although other states unofficially accept the practice, Selander said, “most states don’t have laws in place regarding the placenta at all.”