One of the common arguments against placentophagia, or consumption of the placenta, is that it is an act of cannibalism. I disagree for the following reasons:
- Cannibalism is the eating of human flesh. Flesh is defined as being muscle and fat; placenta is neither.
- Cannibalism, by definition, is consumption of the flesh of someone or something that has been recently killed. Placentas, again, do not qualify.
- Arguments against placentophagia state that we are not supposed to consume anything that comes from our own body. Except, we feed our infants milk produced from our breasts, which is perfectly designed for that purpose. So is the placenta perfectly designed for consumption by the mother.
Obviously, placentophagia is not cannibalism. But what about the argument that placentophagia goes against God’s will? That one, my friends, is a religious question and I am not a theologian.
However, Anna Marie Zalesak has studied philosophy and Catholic theology, and has written a great argument in support of placentophagia for Catholics. She agreed to let me share her thoughts here, but wanted me to mention that it is a work in progress, and may not be her final thoughts on the matter.
My argument on placentophagia is far from being complete, but I thought I would share my thoughts so far. I have perused the Catechism of the Catholic church looking for the teaching on cannibalism and found nothing. I would like to know if anyone is aware of an official source approved by the Church regarding the morality of cannibalism. Not that I need it proven to me that cannibalism is immoral, but because I would like to see and understand the principles of the argument, to see if the same may be applied to placentophagia.
In my perusal of the Catechism, I read through the article on the 5th commandment, Thou shalt not kill, because I thought that any mention of cannibalism would come under that category. In my reading I saw that all the sins listed against this commandment (murder, suicide, abortion, euthanasia, unjust anger, hatred, vengeance…) have this in common – they entail a fundamental disrespect for the sacredness of human life, even those sins that don’t even involve killing (hatred, anger etc.). It seems to me that cannibalism, the way we generally think of it, ie. killing people for the sake of eating them, is wrong for this same reason – fundamental disrespect for human life. Human personhood, which is a reflection of God, is violated.
Cannibalsim can be divided into to categories – (a) killing a person in order to eat their flesh and (b) eating the flesh of a person who has died on their own. Let us consider (b) in which the person is not maliciously killed, as this more closely pertains to placentophagia. There was the case of the soccer team that crashed in the Andes mountains. The survivors ate the flesh of those who had died either in the crash or b/c of freezing to death. There was no malicious intention, in fact their intention was the preservation of their own lives, which is a moral good. However, since the morality of a human act depends upon three factors: the object (act itself), the intention, and the circumstances (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, line 1755), we cannot say that their cannibalism was perfectly okay. Their intention may have been good, and their circumstances were indeed mitigating, but the intrinsic evil of consuming dead human flesh remains unchanged. The personhood of those who had died was in some way violated because their bodies were not properly respected. We cannot judge the souls of those who ate the flesh, but we can say that the act itself was wrong, even though the circumstances were mitigating.
Let us assume that placentophagia is an instance of the latter kind of cannibalism in which human flesh is eaten but there is no homicide. Let us consider the three factors that will determine the morality or immorality of placenta consumption. First, the object, or act itself, which is consumption of the placenta by the mother of a newborn child. The death of the child is not a necessary component of this act, either by the mother’s hand or natural causes. The organ, which was once vital to the child during gestation, has outgrown its usefulness and is discarded by the child’s body and then the mother’s body. It is no longer part of either human body and therefore cannot be said to be the flesh of a person, although it was human in origin. The placenta is not the flesh of a dead person, and therefore its consumption cannot be called cannibalistic. Placentophagia in no way violates the personhood of a human being made in the image and likeness of God. This makes the object of placenta consumption morally indifferent, and not morally evil.
Proceeding then with the knowledge that the act is morally indifferent, let us examine the other two conditions to see if they contribute to the moral goodness or evil of placentophagia.The intention of the human mother in consuming the placenta is to regain her own health. She takes it as a kind of natural medicine to help her heal from childbirth. The placenta provides her with proteins, vitamins, minerals and hormones that ease her post partum period. Benefits to the mother include decreasing the risk of post partum depression, preventing excessive bleeding, increasing her breastmilk supply, reducing post partum iron deficiency, and improving her quality of sleep. The respect for and preservation of life is a moral good, therefore the mother’s intention works towards making her placentophagia a good act. It is possible, I suppose, for there to be an evil intention in placenta consumption, although I do not know what that could be. But if that were to happen, the act would be made immoral by the evil intention.
Lastly, we shall consider the circumstances of the act of placentophagia. If they are the usual circumstances, ie, a pregnancy reaching its completion at birth with the placenta no longer needed by the child’s body, then there is no harm done to either mother or child. If however, the placenta were to be harvested from the mother’s body while it still played a vital role for the child, that would make it an evil act because the circumstance involves the killing of the child. But in the usual circumstances of placentophagia neither the mother nor the baby are harmed in any way.
In conclusion, placentophagia is not cannibalism because it does not involve killing, nor the consumption of flesh which belongs to a deceased person. It does not present an affront to the dignity of the human person. Nor is placentophagia morally evil as long as the intentions and circumstances are either good or morally indifferent.
What do you think?