Nursing student Doyle Byrnes got kicked out of her community college nursing program in Kansas City, Kansas last month after she posted a picture of herself posing with a placenta on her Facebook profile. This month she decided to sue Johnson County Community College to be reinstated as a student, as well as actual and punitive damages.
Apparently, she and some other nursing students had a lab where they were examining a placenta. She allegedly told the professor that they would be taking photographs and posting them to Facebook, at which the professor responded with a noncommittal “Oh, you girls”. However, her photo was only on Facebook a few hours before she got a call from the professor asking her to take it down.
She and the other students were then called into a meeting the following day with the Director of Nursing for the school, Jeanne Walsh. Ms. Walsh then “verbally berated the students by screaming and crying at them,” according to court documents, and then dismissed the students, saying “I don’t know if I would want you back”.
This is supposedly the photo in question. While Ms. Byrnes states in a pleading correspondence to Director Walsh that she was “taken aback by the miraculous service this organ had provided, and admired in awe its perfect, yet simple design to function as the life support for a presently recent addition to the human existence.”, I don’t believe the photo really shows awe and respect. We also don’t know the circumstances surrounding how this particular placenta came to be donated. Just because a mother donates her baby’s placenta to help students learn more about its anatomy, doesn’t mean she gave license for it to be disrespected and used as some sort of sensationalist tool to shock and awe. It is also unclear as to why Director Walsh had such an emotional reaction to the photo, and its posting on a public forum like Facebook. Obviously, it triggered a strong response in at least one person; and we don’t know how the mother felt about this at all.
Yes, I post pictures of placentas on Facebook, always with the mothers’ consent. There are, however, very strict rules in academia about the posting of pictures taken in labs and on campus. I have to be very careful about what I post regarding donated placentas for research. The mothers have to give express consent to use the photographs in that fashion, and generally that is not part of the consenting process. Mothers donate the placentas for research only, not to have photographs of it plastered on the internet.
Placentas SHOULD be treated with awe and respect, but unfortunately placenta is still a divisive type of organ. It does trigger emotional responses in people, and can be used as sensationalist propaganda. I have seen entire websites devoted to pictures of placenta – and these are certainly not meant to share the love and respect of this life-giving, miraculous organ. Instead, they are meant to gross people out and trigger those emotional responses. It’s shameful.
Was this Ms. Byrnes’ intention? I have no idea. I don’t know why she posed for a photo with this placenta, or what her intended purpose was in posting to Facebook. Maybe she really did think it was the greatest thing she’d ever seen and wanted to share it. Or, maybe she did hope to shock her Facebook friends. Whatever her intention, I’m sure she regrets her decision to do so.
Respect the placenta! They’re not jokes and they should not be treated as such.