The Law of Placenta

73 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2020

See all articles by Mathilde Cohen

Mathilde Cohen

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Date Written: January 13, 2019


Of the forms of reproductive labor in which legal scholars have been interested, placenta, the organ developed during pregnancy, has been overlooked. As placenta becomes an object of value for a growing number of individuals, researchers, clinicians, biobanks, and biotech companies, among others, its cultural meaning is changing. At the same time, these various constituencies may be at odds. Some postpartum parents and their families want to repossess their placenta for personal use, while third parties use placentas for a variety of research, medical, and commercial purposes. This Article contributes to the scholarship on reproductive justice and agency by asking who should have access to placentas and under what conditions. The Article emphasizes the insufficient protection the law affords pregnant people wishing to decide what happens to their placenta. Generally considered clinical waste under federal and state law, placental tissue is sometimes made inaccessible to its producers on the ground that it is infectious at the same time as it is made available to third parties on the ground that placenta is discarded and de-identified tissue. Less privileged people who lack the ability to shop for obstetric and other pregnancy-related services that allow them to keep their placentas are at a disadvantage in this chain of supply and demand. While calling for further research on the modus operandi of placenta markets and how pregnant people think about them, this Article concludes that lawmakers should take steps to protect decision-making autonomy over placental labor and offers a range of proposals to operationalize this idea.

Keywords: Placenta, Pregnancy, Reproductive Justice, Reproductive Rights, FDA Law, Health Law, Gender & Law, Regulatory Law, Health Policy, Bio Law, Informed Consent, Feminism, Feminist Legal Theory

JEL Classification: K00, K14, K34, K42, D51, D63, F54, I1, I18, J16, K11, K32, L65

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mathilde, The Law of Placenta (January 13, 2019). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 31, 2020, pp.337-409, Available at SSRN:

Mathilde Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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