Let us bow down before the sacred placenta.
Sorry. I don’t mean to beat the thing to death, but the media reaction to the reinstatement of Doyle Byrnes and her colleagues strikes me as, well, odd. Their consensus: the school may have been a bully, but they photographed a placenta — why, that’s a very sensitive organ! People feel very strongly about their placentas! Robyn Urback at Maclean’s, for example (for my U.S. readers, Maclean’s is a Canadian news magazine):
And they weren’t doing anything exceptionally inappropriate with the organ, just posing and snapping photos (which is curious enough, to say the least). But the situation is complicated for a number of reasons. Firstly, the placenta is an organ involved with reproduction and birth, which makes it a little more personal, sensitive, than a lung, for example. It’s the difference between posing with a heart and posing with a pair of severed testicles; one snapshot will elicit a little more reaction. Secondly, the students are studying to be nurses, a job that demands professionalism and empathy, especially when working with patients whose illnesses have robbed them of dignity. Nonchalance in the presence of blood, scars, feces, vomit, etc. (except when medically necessary) is the mark of appropriate bedside manner. Few patients would feel secure watching their nurse gawk at their oddly coloured growth.
Hmmm. Not sure exactly how photographing a placenta makes nursing students any less professional and empathetic, but let’s give that one a pass. Let’s recap for a moment, though:
The nursing student was appropriately gloved and clearly in a healthcare setting.
The placenta was not obviously attached to either mother or child, and was sitting in an examination tray (as opposed to resting next to pitcher of sangria with a little yellow umbrella poking from the cord.)
The previous user(s)/owner(s) of the placenta were in no way identified.
Anyone who has watched reality television has seen far worse and in a much more exploitative context, than say, nursing students getting excited about getting up close and personal with a placenta in the pursuit of knowledge.
In short, it’s hard to see from where I sit how the students were disrespecting the placenta, if in fact it’s possible to do such a thing. Let’s put it another way: hospitals don’t make any exceptional provision for protection of placental integrity and dignity. There are no special rules for the disposal of placentas. Evidently, the hospital which provided the placenta to the students had no concerns either. Then there’s this: when I was a nursing student there was a designated placenta freezer. The hospital sold them to cosmetic companies. (I’d be curious if that practice still goes on.) Bottom line: it’s a piece of tissue, people. 99 people out of 100 would not recognize one if they fell over it on the street. Having fulfilled its function, a placenta has no spiritual or mystical value, if it ever did so in the first place. It has no feelings to be hurt. That’s all. Or am I completely out to lunch on this?
[Update: corrected some minor spelling/grammatical issues, and changed a couple of words for clarity. Because tonight I can’t proofread worth a damn.]