Yuck markets in everything

by on November 9, 2010 at 3:29 am in Economics, Medicine | Permalink

There is a market in baby foreskins:

Because of this, they’re not tossed out with the rest of the medical waste after a birth. Instead, hospitals sell them to companies and institutions for a wide variety of uses. Companies will pay thousands of dollars for a single foreskin.

Some of the strangest purposes they’re put to:

  • Cosmetics: Foreskins are used to make high-end skin creams. The skin products contain fibroblasts grown on the foreskin and harvested from it. One foreskin can be used for decades to produce fancy face cream like the SkinMedica products hawked on Oprah.
  • Skin grafts: In addition to making products for skin, a baby’s foreskin can be turned into a skin graft for a burn victim. Because the cells are extremely flexible, they’re less likely to be rejected. Currently, this technology can be lifesaving in providing a real skin “band aid” to cover an open wound while a burn victim heals. Researchers at Harvard and Tufts are working on advanced skin replacements that use human foreskins.
  • Cosmetic testing: All those cruelty-free cosmetics you buy? Some of them are tested on foreskins. This yields better results, since they’re human skin. And it saves the lives of the rodents your shampoo would otherwise be tested on.

Does this make the hospital ever-so-slightly more interested in continuing the practice?  For the pointer I thank Andromeda.

Nylund November 8, 2010 at 11:49 pm

I think the biggest "yuck" part is that people trying to come up with ways to help burn victims must compete with the cosmetic/beauty industry. Efficient allocation of scarce resources and what not.

Marc November 9, 2010 at 1:59 am

Just as a note: "it saves the lives of the rodents your shampoo would otherwise be tested on." This is an extremely naively written sentence.

A better thought would be "it redirects the rodents into other testing" or "the rodents it would be tested on are NEVER BORN due to the reduced demand."

Andrew November 9, 2010 at 3:12 am

As expected, the USA steps into the gap to provide the majority of the world's schmucks.

David N November 9, 2010 at 3:46 am

Thanks J, somebody had to say it.

ChE November 9, 2010 at 4:59 am

as a friend of mine used to warn: never eat the calamari served at the seudat after the bris.

Right Wing-nut November 9, 2010 at 5:34 am

Seriously, the reason the US has such a high rate of circumcision boils down to two factors. A study done (in the 20's?) that found that cervical cancer is WAY lower in women whose husbands are circumcised. Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are quite philiosemitic.

tomhynes November 9, 2010 at 5:48 am

Doctors don't charge for circumcisions, but they get to keep the tips.

Ann November 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

In terms of yuckiness,this reminds me of restaurants in China that sell soup made from aborted fetuses. The soup was supposed to make one look more youthful and be good for the skin.

Jeff Akston November 9, 2010 at 6:57 am

They can be used as replacement eyelids too. But they end up a bit cockeyed.

kzndr November 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm

There's an amusing urban legend in Damascus that next to every circumcision clinic you'll find a shwarma stand. I sense the opportunity for profit, as those shwarma stands are definitely not paying top dollar for the foreskins.

Erik November 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

Totally with Lawn on this one. Genital mutilation in the US and Israel is disgusting, barbaric, and needs to end. Thankfully Intact America (intactamerica.org) is working on fixing our horrid culture here in the US, and standing up for the rights of infants of BOTH genders.

Brian November 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

There's a leather smith who makes foreskins into wallets. It doesn't sound like much, but when you rub one of the wallets, it turns into a briefcase.

Rob O. November 11, 2010 at 2:11 am

I realize that this article isn't focused on whether circumcision is right or wrong, good or bad, but I have to add that another part of my primitive monkey brain wonders this:

If you're a Christian, how can you simultaneously be in awe of God's creations yet also arrogantly question the value of something that He designed? How do you reconcile your faith in God's wisdom with a total lack of regard for part of something he so carefully, intently constructed?

Who are we to casually assume that the foreskin is worthless and should therefore be butchered off? Should we then turn our knives to other portions of babies’ anatomy for which we have insufficient understanding?

Hugh7 November 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm

@RM: Let the penis' owner claim ownership of the foreskin!

@Right Wing-nut: That study didn't happen until 1954, long after circumcision was established, and was based on a comparison of Jewish women with gentile women (who, it turned out, often didn't know whether their husbands were circumcised or not). It turns out there is a genetic component to cervical cancer, and when they compared gentile women with circumcised hubands to gentile women with intact husbands, the correlation vanished. (More recently a comparison of different countries found a correlation in a very small sub-sample of women with high-risk partners, but many other factors could be at play, such as more women smoking in non-circumcising countries). It's just another example of circumcision being a "cure" looking for a disease.

@Erik, no need to pick on Israel – Muslim countries, the Philippines, South Korea, tribal Africa, and eastern Polynesia also circumcise.

@Jeff Akston: It's true about the eyelids, and a famous WW2 plastic surgeon used to curse whenever a facially-burnt airman proved to be circumcised.

@Mike: They still cut most of the foreskin off using the Plastibell. You can see the procedure here: http://www.circumstitions.com/Restric/Images/Circ… (graphic and NSFW)

Haryaksha November 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Somehow Congolese and Ugandans have been convinced to undergo mass circumcisions.

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