Judge orders hospital to give mom placenta


You can't have your placenta and eat it too. Ask Anne Swanson.

The Las Vegas woman originally wanted the afterbirth of her daughter Maxanne for consumption, to prevent the down-in-the-dumps feeling associated with postpartum depression.

But Sunrise Hospital officials refused to give it to her, saying it was contaminated and a biohazard.

Clark County District Court Judge Susan Johnson sided with Swanson Tuesday, granting a preliminary injunction to stop Sunrise Hospital from destroying the placenta. She went a step further, ordering the hospital to turn the placenta over to Swanson within the next two weeks, ending a three-month dispute that has drawn national attention.

Swanson called Tuesday's decision a victory for Nevada women.

"I'm thrilled,'' said Swanson, who gave birth to Maxanne on April 12 by Caesarean section at Sunrise Hospital. "Women can ask for their placenta and receive it in Nevada and not have to fight for it.''

Swanson now plans to bury it in honor of the birth of her daughter Maxanne.

It was unclear, however, whether any hospitals would change their procedures for releasing placentas as a result of the ruling.

Michael Sommermeyer, a District Court spokesman, said Sunrise Hospital could appeal the decision to the state's Supreme Court. However, Amy Stevens, system vice president for Sunrise Health, which operates Sunrise Hospital, said hospital officials would comply with the ruling, which she described as applying to this single case.

She also said they were pleased the judge understood their concerns about regulatory requirements hospitals are under when handling what's considered biohazardous waste.

"The judge was actually pretty descriptive about both the legal requirements for release and the handling of the material,'' she said.

Johnson, who could not comment about the case because it is technically still pending, ordered Sunrise Hospital's attorneys to write up a legal document for Swanson releasing the hospital from any liability.

Attorneys are also preparing instructions for how Swanson will acquire the placenta, which is currently frozen, Stevens said.

"This will take the hospital a couple of days,'' she said.

Sunrise Hospital officials said that with few exceptions, placentas are not and will not be released to patients because, like any body part, they contain a lot of blood, which can carry infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Various Las Vegas Valley hospitals have said placentas are stored for a short period of time. Unless a physician has asked that it be sent for medical tests or a patient wants it for specific religious or cultural reasons, placentas are destroyed.

Currently, there is no Nevada statute or regulation prohibiting hospitals from returning placentas to mothers.

In 2006, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law allowing hospitals to release placentas for spiritual reasons. But if the baby, mother or placenta tests positive for HIV, it is not released. In some cultures, it is common practice to bury the placenta. In others, including the Chinese culture, eating placentas is said to provide health benefits.

"I hope this brings about a better awareness about the benefits of placenta,'' said Swanson who had planned to give her placenta to a friend to be dried, ground into a powder and packed into capsules.

The theory is that excess hormones build up in the placenta during pregnancy, and new mothers can take the pills and replenish depleted hormones and control that down-in-the-dumps feeling some experience after childbirth.

Swanson's friend Jodi Selander is a North Las Vegas natural and herbal healing enthusiast who transforms placentas into pills for local women.

Selander attended Tuesday's hearing with Swanson.

"I'm still a bit stunned. We were both kind of prepared for another hearing,'' she said. "It's a very good day.''

Once she has it, Swanson plans to dehydrate the placenta and keep in a jar until she and her husband are in a permanent home.

"I will keep it in a container and plant it where we eventually put down our roots,'' she said.

 

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