Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Foreskins in Oprah's Facecream

I've had a lot of questions passed my way recently as to the controversial cosmetic products that Oprah has used/advertised which are derived from the foreskins of circumcised baby boys. "Does Oprah KNOW about this?!?!" is the frequent exclamation.

Fact of the matter is that Oprah HAS been questioned about her use and endorsement of a product that uses genitally mutilated baby parts as its main ingredient... So far, she has refrained from any comment. I would guess this is also one of the reasons she has yet to host a show on the subject of infant circumcision, and her buddy, Dr. Oz is careful not to get too far into the subject when he is asked as well. [For the record: Dr. Oz is not a doctor of human sexuality, pediatrics, or human development. His specialty is not sexual health, development, or the decades worth of research surrounding the prepuce organ, sexuality, and circumcision].

Like the author of this article (below) ponders - I was wondering if Oprah's cosmetic products were made from the prepuce organ ('foreskin') of baby GIRLS instead of boys, would she still be using and endorsing such an item? I would venture to guess the answer to that would be a very forthright: NO!

Why are we selling (for profit - and a lot of $$ at that) chopped up newborn organs from BOYS, and not girls? Do all babies, regardless of sex, deserve the same basic human rights of genital integrity? Or is it okay for us to wear our baby boy's severed penis on our face?

Don't be fooled - there are few healthy baby body parts thrown into the trash when amputated at the hospital. They are simply too valuable. And those that are worth the big $$ are especially sacred to harvest and sell.

It is almost enough to make me sick.


What is the value of human parts? I am at the Body Worlds 3 exhibit with my six-year-old, and what I thought was going to be an interesting medical lesson for my daughter is turning into a strange art show and commentary on our varying degrees of values around human flesh. We are standing in front of a body called "Skin Man." Once a living, breathing human, he now stands with a thoughtful expression on his face, holding one skinned arm outstretched with his entire human dermis aloft, like a coat to be hung. I'm trying to think of some interesting ethical discussions around the value of human bodies with my child, but all I can think of is how much money his skin is worth.

In an article for The Tyee, Dr. Paul Tinari estimated that a single male foreskin can be worth upwards of $100,000. He argued that men who are circumcised have a right to the revenue made off the resale of their foreskins (just as someone who sells their hair for wigs would, for example).

But that's not the only issue in the debate over how people use and profit from foreskins. Many people are challenging the ethics and medical necessity of male circumcision, which means that any use of the foreskins after that is also in question. Then there's the fact that foreskins aren't just being sold for the medical flesh trade; rather, they're joining a few other body parts being sold in the service of vanity. And if the ethics of using human body parts, skin and stem cells for medical research and treatments are contentious, the ethics of using them for vanity's sake is a whole other conundrum.

Shopping carts for skin


The flesh trade isn't as elusive as people might think. Like porn, human body parts are easily available online, for the right price. The Coriell Institute is only one of dozens of websites that offer foreskin fibroblast for sale. On their website, I put a foreskin fibroblast in a shopping cart and called their office, where a perky customer representative informs me that I can buy the flakes for a cost of $85.00 US -- plus shipping and handling. "We send them up to Canada all the time," she chirps. In the end, I didn't buy, but it surprised me to find out how easily I could have.

That's because foreskin fibroblasts are big business. A fibroblast is a piece of human skin that is used as a culture to grow other skin or cells -- like human yogurt kits. Human foreskin fibroblast is used in all kinds of medical procedures from growing skin for burn victims and for eyelid replacement, to growing skin for those with diabetic ulcers (who need replacement skin to cover ulcers that won't heal), to making creams and collagens in the cosmetics industry (yes, the product that is injected into puffy movie-starlet lips).

Foreskin-derived skin, sourced from circumcisions (now considered by many experts to be painful and also unnecessary) is still often considered the "cruelty free" alternative to testing cosmetic products on animals. One foreskin can be used for decades to produce miles of skin, much of which helps people in genuine medical need. And that's the reason one foreskin can generate as much as $100,000: that's not the fee from a one-time sale, but the fees from the fibroblasts that are created from those original skin cells.

But not all uses of foreskin fibroblast are "medical" in nature. One of the most publicized examples of the foreskin-for-sale trend involves a skin cream that has been promoted by none other than Oprah Winfrey. SkinMedica'sa face cream, which costs over $100 US for a 0.63 oz bottle, is used by many high-profile celebrities (such as Winfrey and Barbara Walters) as an alternative to cosmetic surgery. Winfrey has promoted the SkinMedica product several times on her show, and her website, which raves, there's "a new product that boosts collagen production and can rejuvenate skin called TNS Recovery Complex. TNS is comprised from six natural human growth factors found in normal healthy skin...the factors are engineered from human foreskin!"

During the show, the doctor promoting SkinMedica cream warned that some people may have ethical questions regarding using a product that is made from the derivative of foreskins (to which Winfrey made no response). Why ethical questions? The foreskins come from circumcisions, and male circumcision is now a controversial topic. In a discussion on Mothering.com, one querent asked, "If the cream was made from the bi-product of baby afro-American clitoral skin, would Oprah still be promoting it?" There's no answer to that question on Mothering or Winfrey's site, and Winfrey declined The Tyee's request for an interview.


'harvesting' the main ingredient - a newborn foreskin
Beauty engineering


Using foreskin fibroblast for medically necessary procedures generates less controversy than using it for optional "beauty" treatments. So how does Dr. Fitzpatrick, who invented SkinMedica, defend his company?

To start with, he argues that using foreskin fibroblast to make cream is ethical, because the company does not put any actual human tissue in their products -- only the growth hormone left over from growing artificial skin (not actual tissue or skin cells). And he adds that the original company that supplied SkinMedica with the hormone grew cultures from a single foreskin donated 15 years earlier. That company made artificial skin for wound healing.

But that company went bankrupt. And Dr. Fitzpatrick, whose invention of this cream earned him the dubious honour of being named Allure magazine's "physician who has most influenced beauty," now works with a supplier that uses foreskin fibroblast to make injectable collagen. So the foreskins used to make the cream have only ever been used for "vanity" purposes.

Further in his defence, Fitzpatrick says that using foreskins in the first place was simply a matter of convenience. Fitzpatrick told The Tyee, "It doesn't matter if you get a fibroblast from the eyelid, the cheek, the foot or the foreskin. That cell is still a fibroblast; it does the same thing. Foreskins were used because that is a common surgery and the skin is thrown away, so why not use it for benefits? Twelve years ago when this was done there would have been no objection to using foreskin tissue."

But Fitzpatrick acknowledges that using foreskins now is about more than convenience. Circumcision rates in Canada have dropped below 10 per cent and they are dropping in the U.S. as well, which means that it will be more difficult to source them. And foreskin samples do eventually run out and need to be replaced. But Fitzpatrick says that although you can use technology to make the cell cultures from scratch, without foreskins, the process is "much more expensive."

Sourcing foreskins


Things have changed from the time when using foreskins was an objection-free endeavour. In fact, many websites are now dedicated to the preservation of baby foreskins, and long streams of discussion on mothering websites argue against the use of baby skin for cosmetics purposes. Vancouver is home to the Association for Genital Integrity whose mandate is to end male circumcision.

I asked Dr. Fitzpatrick about using foreskins from older men instead who want to earn the purported $100,000 windfall. Apparently, it's a no-go. "Fibroblasts that are made from young skin are more active than fibroblast from a 60- or 70-year-old. The skin reproduces better in young tissue; you are using that cell as a factory...eventually the tissue samples need to be refreshed...a young cell produces more and lasts longer."

Newborn tissue is particularly valuable, not only because of its vitality, but also because it is usually guaranteed to be healthy. Tissue for medical use obviously needs to be free from disease.

Ethical pain


Fitzpatrick adds that foreskin tissue has been the easiest tissue to access -- ethically -- up till now "because you are not having to use stem cells or fetal tissue in order to still get young tissue."

Neocutis is another face cream -- but this one uses cells grown from a terminated fetus to make their product, something they document on their website. Neocutis declined The Tyee's request for an interview.
Dr. Nikhil Mehta, the director of product development for SkinMedica, talked to The Tyee about his opinion of Neocutis, their competitor. "They are actually taking cells, literally chopping up the cells, and putting them in cream."

Another page on the Neocutis website describes how they harvested the tissue of a terminated two-month-old fetus, "in the period of scarless wound healing." It is out of this tissue that they developed the cell culture used in creating their special "bio restorative skin cream" with their patented secret ingredient.


Myth of scarlessness


Dr. Fitzpatrick explains why they would want to use fetal tissue: there is a period during neo-natal development where wounds will heal without scarring. He says no one really understands why the cells are scar-free at that time, but that even so, there are no scar reduction benefits to be gained by using them -- those properties aren't transferable: "To take cells at that age, and imply that you can have that happen to an adult is incorrect. No one has shown that to be correct; if there was some reason to believe that could occur it would be a very hot topic."

The Tyee asked Dr. Mehta how much tissue Neocutis would need to "harvest" from a two-month-old fetus in order to develop a cell culture, since this kind of skin can grow for years. "You don't need very much. Think of how small a baby foreskin is. Maybe the amount of skin that is on the tip of a finger."

This doesn't sound so bad, until I am standing in front of the plastinated fetuses at Science World. They are the only dead humans at the exhibit with skin, and their tiny features are drawn into expressions one might imagine on a puppy having a bad dream. The two-month-old fetus is perfectly formed; a small spine curves its back. Tiny fingers curl. It is barely an inch long. They would have to use the whole thing.

In a moment of panic, I wonder if I have deeply scarred my six-year-old by bringing her to this exhibit. In this world where doctors can make art shows out of human flesh -- ostensibly in the name of science -- how can we judge pharmaceutical companies who chop up unwanted fetuses, or grow cells from foreskins, to put on our faces?

As I am trying to formulate some words to discuss the topic, my daughter -- young though she is -- catches sight of my face and pulls me away saying gently, "Mommy, don't look if it makes you upset."


End Note: Oprah.com has posted a recent article on the issue of intactivism (keeping our babies intact and not cutting them up at birth)

23 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for organizing all this info in such a readable way. I'm off to post on all my intactivist lists. Gloria Lemay, Vancouver
    http://www.glorialemay.com/blog

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  2. The danger is saying why boys and not girls is that it may be taken seriously. Twice the harvest, that is a lot of money.
    Jocelyne
    www.crescentwomb.net

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The point is that it is illegal to genitally mutilate a girls genitals but not a boys! Think about that double standard, denial and unconscious transmission of intergenerational trauma!

      Delete
  3. I am totally against circumcision but if people are going to continue to do it I would rather see the skin used for something useful (burn victims, etc NOT face cream!!)then just thrown in the trash or one article I read where the doc hold up the newly cut foreskin and asked "Anyone going fishing?" I cannot say in this post what I'd have like to do to him! I would much rather NO babies have to undergo this horrible procedure. BA, BirthPP doula

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  4. WhereIsMyForeskin?October 22, 2009 7:25 PM

    There is plenty of skin from cadavers in "Skin Banks" (similar to "Blood Banks"). There is NO need to use infant foreskins for growing skin to treat burn victims. There is simply no justification for removing healthy, normal skin/mucosa from an unconsenting baby/child.

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  5. What a repugnant thing! We as a society have sank to levels of depravity unimagined before and we have sank so low that some have no reticence to go on national television to promote their grisly trade. Then there are the enablers like Oprah. Do these people have no sense of shame?

    And lets not forget the flesh merchants who sever infant genital parts and peddle them for $50.00 each. Apparently the greed is so great that anything has it's price and merchant willing to subject their victims to intense agony and danger in order to exact a profit.

    My grandparents were certain we were going to hell and I tend to agree when I read such as this.


    Frank O'Hara

    .

    ReplyDelete
  6. OPRAH ISN'T DISGUSTING BECAUSE SHE IS FAT AGAIN, SHE'S DISGUSTING BECAUSE SHE WEARS BABY SKINS LIKE IT'S SOMETHING FASHIONABLE. SAY NO! TO FUR AND FORESKINS MISS O!

    Fashion for the most part is nothing but the ostentation of riches. -FRANCES WILLARD

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  7. Oprah puts up an intactivism article on her website yet uses and promotes skin cream that uses products harvested from the culture of infant foreskins? What gross hypocracy. It is disgusting that someone, in her stature especially, would be promoting such an unethical product. Shame on Oprah

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  8. Well done article. You bring out many excellent points here. If there's any greatness left in America (or Canada), it's the remnant of freedom of choice we enjoy--and circumcision of infants is only one more denial of freedom of choice.

    Americans need to follow in Canada's footsteps in re-emphasizing freedom of choice regarding circumcision (a permanent alteration of the sex organs with psycho-neuro-physiological implications). Each male should be able to make his own decision--after he's old enough to assume responsibility for his decisions--at majority.

    Oprah could set an example and do much more to establish and protect freedom of choice by doing a show where anti-circumcision evidence and arguments were presented. I doubt it will happen, however, because speaking out against circumcision is an affront to Zionists. AND she isn't brave enough to challenge something so terrible, so evil, so outrageous, and yet so abundantly evident in American society--that so many thoughtless parents have already done to their own unfortunate children. Why slap the faces of the multitude?

    Ayn Rand was alleged to be an outspoken champion of individual rights, and she never got around to the topic of routine infant circumcision either--even though circumcision rates in the U.S. were peaking just at the time of her greatest popularity (mid 1960's). (How is it possible that a "philosopher concerned with ethics" could simply overlook, and never mention, an ethical question of such vast social and popular consequences? It's almost as if these babies were having their foreskins severed in another universe as far as Ayn Rand was concerned--as if these babies weren't human and ethics didn't apply to them.)

    Finally it comes down to what these people--Oprah or Ayn Rand-- view as expedient in maintaining their popularity. For celebrities who value their status as celebrities, ethics takes a distant backseat to ratings--and the quest for ever more government currency.

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  9. I understand the desire to have the skin used so the procedure wasn't done in vain, but I think this causes more harm than good. If a doctor is getting paid not only for the procedure, but also for the skin, how likely is (s)he to tell the parents, "Oh, by the way, there's no medical reason to do this and I'm breaking every part of the oath I took when I became a doctor by performing this operation."? By removing the extra incentive, perhaps doctors wouldn't have as much to gain and would more easily let the idea slip away. Here's hoping at least.

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  10. This is sickening. Do these people have any sense of community or not?

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  11. This is horrible... does anyone have a list of brands of ethical, vegetarian cosmetics? As in, no foreskins, no animal testing, no animal products for starters.

    I would hope the Bodyshop would be among them, but if anyone has a list I'd be so grateful!

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  12. I don't think there is anything wrong with using aborted fetuses, if they are not taking the fetuses away from legitimate medical research and/or uses. Mothers are not encouraged to abort babies, nor are they paid for it... in fact they have to pay FOR it. So unlike using foreskins, using fetuses does not encourage or increase the number of dead fetuses in existence.

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  13. Parents also must pay for the removal of their son's foreskin - the hospital profits (due to its sale or use in research).

    I believe we need to be careful not to mix issues here - the subjects of intactivism (a human rights issue for those who've already been born into this world) vs. the subject of abortion. They are different topics, different issues, and intertwining them will not help those in either cause.

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  14. Any time there's a benefit to something, there's a reason for it's continuance. If hospitals or medical businesses receive any compensation or income for tissue that was immorally collected, you have just that many more people who are that much less likely to recognize this as a human rights issue. It is detrimental to the cause as a whole, even if it is just for burn victims.

    If what they are saying about how long the tissue can last is accurate. then there are probably not as many foreskins involved as it seems. While this is obviously big business as far as the amount of $ being made is concerned, I think it may actually be a very small % of the circs done. The decline of circumcision shouldn't hurt this business, but that doesn't mean they won't have an interest in defending it anyway.

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  15. Thanks for posting. Shame on Oprah. There are NO BENEFITS to cutting up a helpless infants genitals against their will, whether for religious, cultural, or for cosmetic or medical use later! I apologize if that is too blunt, but frankly I am getting sick of hearing the supposed 'benefits" for circumcision or the use of the discarded foreskin, even if for burn victims. It (circumcision) should not be happening in the first place!

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  16. It should be noted that makeup companies using foreskins do not list 'foreskin' on their ingredients. Rather, they are identified as an ingredient by "human fibroblasts" or "natural fibroblasts" or "organic fibroblasts" or even just "fibroblasts." People may wish to be aware of this as there are many more companies than SkinMedica which use them world-wide. This article goes so far as to glamorize them as something YOU want - yes, you know you really do... :/

    http://www.beauty-and-the-bath.com/human-fibroblasts.html

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  17. I'm sick!I have not heard so disgusting practice since the nazi used jews body part for profit. So we are a so low and disgusting culture. We are mutilating baby for producing cosmetics. But who care after all it's only males!
    Sorry, I must go vomit.

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  18. I find fault with those who would argue that the foreskins (unethically obtained) are there "anyway" and should be used to benefit others. The research data gained by the Nazi doctors of WWII was ordered destroyed even though it could have been used to save lives because it had been collected using unethical methods. The foreskins obtained now in an unethical manner are in the same category.
    Doesn't anyone have ANY idea what ETHICS are anymore?

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  19. Ah Ha...so that's where my foreskin went! Well, probably not as it went missing without my consent about 55 years ago...I was too young to remember. Now after decades of just putting up with my unprotected glans being treated like a boxing glove, I'm going to try at least to some extent to naturally "restore" the foreskin. Ladies, please understand and hopefully support any males who might want to do the same. Imagine your clitoris being totally exposed to dry clothing and unnumerable toilet paper wipes for years!

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  20. Where can I find a list of confirmed companies that use either cells and/or support research using them? I've heard SkinMedica and Mary Kay, but would like a link to more inclusive and well researched list. Thanks.

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  21. I doubt Mary Kay uses human tissues in their products - it increases the price dramatically. You can look on the ingredients for any product or contact a company if you are thinking of buying to see if the product includes "fibroblasts" (most typically what they are called when included), "bioplasts" or "natural tissue nutrients".

    Few companies that sell on the mainstream market (in Walmart, Target, etc.) use human tissues because of how pricey they are to begin with. It is one reason many hospitals do not want the prepuce to go to waste post circumcision - it is too valuable ($).

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  22. parent that have had their children circumcised should take their doctors to task regarding the sale of their Childs prepuce and see to it that they are paid a royalty on the profits. Or at least the children who were so mutilated should take their parents to task in the same way. It is easy to imagine that this whole issue could lead to some interesting litigation in the future. Hit them in the pocket if you want to see it stoped.

    ReplyDelete

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