Bill aligns medical, cultural practices
The measure would allow parents to receive the placenta of their children for birth rituals.
WHAT in Western medical practice might be considered pathological waste, Hawaiians and others regard as essential to their cultural traditions.
A bill that restores parents' claims to the placenta that connected mother and child before birth recognizes that tradition appropriately and should become law. It would eliminate the need for further legal entanglement and protracted rule-making by the state Department of Health.
A birth ritual practiced by Hawaiians requires the cleansing and burial of placenta, or iewe, to keep the child safe and connected to the land.
Until last year, hospitals routinely gave the iewe to parents who wanted the placenta. However, when the Health Department learned of this, it discovered its rules did not allow the practice.
The rules date back to the early 1990s when concerns about blood-borne diseases such as HIV prompted the department to require disposal of human tissues, organs and other body parts.
A lawsuit ensued with restraining orders and appeals complicating and slowing resolution that the department first resisted, then agreed to.
In the meantime, parents had to delay rituals for their children. Some were frustrated because they could not do for their newborns what they had done for their older children. Instead of waiting until the lawsuit made its way through court, they sought the legislation that exempted placenta from being labeled medical waste.
The placenta presents no health hazard since women are tested for infectious diseases before they give birth. Medical experts say there are no significant risks to the public in allowing the ritual, and cite the potential dangers to newborns and their mothers who choose to give birth outside a hospital because they do not want iewe to be destroyed or used for research purposes.
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