The Placenta’s Second Life

This thesis, written for a popular audience, explores the many facets of the placenta, an organ that facilitates the growth of the fetus during pregnancy. It looks at what happens when the placenta dodges the hospital incinerator-taking on a second purpose, a second life. Once the placenta is expelled during the third stage of labor, once it has served its role in the body and is facing retirement, it can take on whole new forms of usefulness. Humans, artful at manipulating the materials of life, have created new–and often controversial–purposes for this discard tissue after it has served its primary role: expelled placenta is used in eye surgery, in training dogs to sniff dead bodies, in toxicology research, in forensics, in cosmetics, and, most significantly, in an emerging field of stem cell research. From ritual use to research subject to health treatment, we have taken the placenta from the realm of the dead and given it new vigor.



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