Articles

Cannibalism?

For all the goofiness that is SCAM, I never thought I would have a post with Cannibalism in the title.  The ability for humans to find imaginary healing properties in everything from duck liver and heart diluted 1:100 200 times, rhinoceroses horns, and waving hands over people to adjust energy fields that do not exist is remarkable.  Somehow I never thought Jeffrey Dahmer would be at the forefront of alternative therapies.

Wednesday evening while my wife was reading me the paper (it is how I usually consume the local newspaper, my wife reads stories she finds of interest out loud.  Otherwise I do not think I would bother with anything beyond the comics and sports page) she let it be known that Korean officials has confiscated medications containing aborted fetuses and stillborn babies.  Instead of the usual distracted, uh huh, that’s interesting, this caught my attention.  Say what?

She showed me the article.  There it was, in black and white, under the title “Human flesh pills seized.”  Korean customs officials confiscated 17,000 health capsules that contain human remains “most likely extracted from aborted fetuses or stillborn babies.” Forensic tests found a 99.7% match with human flesh.  Evidently unborn infants and placenta are believed to have medicinal properties in some parts of China and Korea.

Conformation bias kicked in big time. It is the kind of report I would assume to be true since it ties in with my understanding of traditional Chinese medicine, where they will grind up damn near anything to make a medical nostrum.   First tigers, now dead babies.  Stupid healers.

And there are parallels.  In parts of Africa, albino’s are dismembered and sometimes killed for body parts that are used by witch doctors to make potions that make the user healthy and wealthy (but not, evidently, wise).  As best I can tell, the potions and charms are used in rituals but not consumed, but the interwebs are not specific on the use of the albino parts. It is difficult to tell what is fact and fiction, although there is no doubt that albinos are being murdered for magical purposes.

The Wikipedia entry on the persecution of albinos has the following note at the top :

An editor has expressed a concern that this article lends undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, controversies or matters relative to the article subject as a whole. Please help to create a more balanced presentation. Discuss and resolve this issue before removing this message.”

I guess there is an opportunity for the pro murder and processing of albino’s into potions to weigh in with their side.  Sigh. The eternal quest for being neutral and telling both sides of the story.

I though the topic would be a nice addition to prior entries on Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  Then I thought wait a minute.  There are two topics about which I have expertise:  Infectious Diseases and SCAMs.  The Oregonian always gets it wrong when they have articles on these topics.  So why should it be correct this time?

As I thought about it, I have spent significant time in the byways and backwaters of TCM, looking for the odd and unusual therapies, and I have never heard of this form of medication.  Something that weird and repugnant would have been noticed long ago. Given the lack of veracity of the ingredients on the average bottle of TCM, even if it included ‘dead babies’ and ‘embryos’ on the label, I would be skeptical of the contents.

The article is only five paragraphs long, but rereading with a skeptical eye instead of confirmation bias suggests it doesn’t hold together.

There is this weirdly specific Auschwitz like description in the article:

The pills were composed on “ground stillborn fetus or babies that had been cut into small pieces and dried in gas ranges for two days, and then made into powders and encapsulated.

Although the Huffington Post suggested

dead babies whose bodies were chopped into small pieces and dried on stoves before being turned into powder.

And the Mail suggested more modern techniques

Overnight she dried it out on absorbent paper before slowly microwaving it on a low heat

My microwave doesn’t have low heat; maybe they mean low power.

So how do they know it is specifically babies and not placenta or other human tissues.  I am not certain as I cannot find a copy of the report in English.

The video report is in Korean and the only organs on screen look like placenta.  I could see nothing that looked like fetus

They comment a 99.7 % match with human tissue. Human tissue does not a fetus make.  I am of course limited by my lack of Korean and Google translation (which summarizes the entry with “saw culture terrible wrong against humanity is an act of singing.” I agree)  but I can’t find the forensic report on line, just references to it.  The video has some lab coated science done on screen, but I have no clue what they are really doing.  There are graphs and pipetting, so it must be valid.

There is something peculiar in  the missing 0.3%  that to my mind suggests someone wants to imply that  the source not quite 100% human, a goal if the message is not truth, but demonizing someone or something.  Those Chinese, eating dead babies.  They are not even completely human dead baby pills.

Is there any data to suggest the pills contain babies?  Nope.  Could it be placenta?  Almost certainly.  Placentas are popular the world over.   It is the one meat OK with vegans:

While some argue placentophagy is basically an act of cannibalism, many vegans think it’s okay to eat one’s own placenta, or a friend’s placenta, because no animal suffered for the meat.

Although half the human race, and certainly my wife, whose graphic description of pushing a bowling ball through a paper towel tube doesn’t sound like fun,  might argue with the last 6 words of that sentence. Not unsurpizingly the author is male.

How did they know such gruesome specifics about the manufacturing processes.  The video is not revealing and the written reports appear to be rewrites of the same article; the interwebs echo chamber can make research tedious.

All the comments on the beneficial effects of dead babies are in over the top sites about cannibalism  in China. Wouldn’t baby oil be cheaper? I  can  find no other independent references to  traditional healers who think dead baby pills are of benefit. I am sure there are a few Elizabeth Báthory wannabe’s , who think that consumption of human blood and body parts are of benefit.  Any alleged mystical/alternative health benefits from cannibalism are not mentioned on the interwebs outside of population control.

So I went a googling, an found all the reports started around 2000 and every instance I could find were on anti-abortion sites.  Ah.  No wonder the grisly description of the manufacturing process.  And the reports get really sensationalist with respect to China:

Usually, I washed the foetuses clean, and added ginger, orange peel and pork to make soup. After taking it for a while, I felt a lot better and my asthma disappeared. I used to take placenta, but it was not so helpful.”

and

The next day the reporter returned at lunch time. The doctor eventually emerged from the operating theatre holding a fist size glass bottle stuffed with thumbsized foetuses.

She said: ‘There are 10 foetuses here, all aborted this morning. You can take them. We are a state hospital and don’t charge anything.

‘Normally, we doctors take them home to eat – all free. Since you don’t look well, you can take them.

Most of the sites  are in the  same  sensationalist mode. When I was a medical student at the VA we would eat the dinner trays of patient who had been discharged or could otherwise not have their meals.  That is where I draw the line.

As best I can tell, the entire dead baby pill story is nonsense.  Whether started by Koreans or Pro-life proponents to aggravate their enemies and give succor to the faithful, I do not know.  Everything I can find suggests sensational, unverified reporting by people with an ax to grind.  It is another version of the blood libel, a common manifestation of bigotry, ignorance, and xenophobia. Accusations of  cannibalism has a long history as a form of propaganda used against the ’other’.

Glen Beck takes the opportunity to draw a parallel between dead baby pills and Obama’s stand on some aspects of health care.  That pretty much sums up the probable  reason this story exists.

And by the way, it is the Koreans who seem to be the market for dead baby pills, the Chinese are the re-processors.  It is the Koreans who have some ‘splanin to do.

While I am convinced the multiplicity of logical fallacies and its resultant  fundamental irrationality of humans, I also am convinced of the basic decency and goodness of most humans*.  The whole concept of eating dead babies goes against fundamental human nature, even if I do agree with the idea that for humans there is nothing unnatural, just untried.  Dead baby pill are  almost certainly not about alternative medicine, but demonizing your enemy, be it Chinese or the abortionist. Hmm.  Maybe I have to rethink the whole decency and goodness thing.  The idea of dead baby pills fails at the human level. It has about the same probability of being true as the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

This is by no means a definitive review of the topic, but none the less I call urban legend.  I await the Mythbusters to prove me right.  Watching the hosts  consume stillborn fetuses would make great television.

Asides
* I have always found the need of SCAM and anti-vaccine proponents to demonize their opposition to be the saddest part of their argument.  I try, not always with success, to remember it is the idea, not the person, that is the problem.  But then you have Gary Kevin Trudeau, Dr. Oz, and Robert Young, and it is the person after all.  Damned if you do, damned if you do.

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Pharmaceuticals, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (86) ↓

86 thoughts on “Cannibalism?

  1. DW says:

    This is absolutely hysterical from start to finish. Aside from pathetic and awful, could the whole story be howlingly funnier?

    A side note, but I’ve always thought that for vegans to make an “exception” for placentas was illogical. I’m sorry but the placenta is an animal product. Vegans are not supposed to eat animal products. The theory is that ANY human use of animal products is exploitative, per se – even if one can make a convincing argument that the individual animal in question truly did not mind. If it’s okay to eat your friend’s placenta, why isn’t it okay to eat eggs or cheese? I suppose I can see maybe eating your OWN placenta with a clear conscience … though I do feel there’s a convincing argument that it’s cannibalism.

    It has probably been covered here before, but is there any truth to the claims of nutritional benefits from eating placenta?

  2. DugganSC says:

    I was about to say, I remember reading this news story back in high school, almost two decades ago. I suspect one of the other reasons its enjoys longevity is that it ties in with the stories of fetal stem cell treatment (which, incidentally, have they actually come up with anything for that? The last I heard, every success has been done with adult stem cells), especially with the articles previously posted on this site of ersatz stem cell therapy involving directly injecting the stem cells (or what they claim to be stem cells) into the injured location.

    Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me entirely to find that someone out there was making use of aborted baby bits — it ties in too well with the various aspects of mysticism involving ingesting items that contain similarities to what you desire — but I too am a bit skeptical about the large scale attributed to it. As for why it’s the Chinese, like you said, they’ve got the ties to TCM. Plus, they’re well known as the country with forced abortions to maintain their population cap. Lastly, they’ve been known to be rather pragmatic on the use of dead bodies. I remember the controversy over the Bodyworlds exhibits when someone pointed out that several of the bodies had bullet-holes in the skull because they came from executed Chinese prisoners whose bodies the government had donated.

  3. Mark,

    I have been following this story since we talked about it on the SGU. After you asked me about it for this article I received an e-mail from a Korean speaker who claims the story has been verified by investigative reporters. Here is a YouTube video in Korean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtqoNuh9v2A

    Here is the key translation from the SGU listener:

    (3:30) The reporters were only able to find placentas and pills made with placentas.

    (6:15) However, they were then able to find a dealer selling baby pills secretly later at a pharmacy.
    The dealer claims that the pills were made from 7~8 month olds.

    (8:05) The reporters also found someone that said (some) hospitals were selling the babies for approximately $140.
    This lady has apparently consumed multiple babies this way.

    Later on, they were also successfully able to find doctors willing to sell babies (even recommending that 5.5month olds are ideal).
    (14:40) They followed one of the pharmacist at the hospital to their home (who has been doing for 10 years), where she was selling the babies from their freezer.
    (21:10) The lady then takes a baby, cuts it up, dries, grinds and makes pills from the powder. Some of the gruesome process was captured on film.
    (24:25) The reporters then took the pills to a pharmacy where they provided packaging to disguise the pills for shipping (seemed to be standard procedure to them).
    (25:40) The pills were then shipped and arrived in Korea with no problems.

    (30:00) Tests in Korea revealed DNA from 2 female and 1 male babies. Further studies revealed fragments of bone, hair, skin and other substances.

  4. Janet Camp says:

    So, tell me again why the human species is so exalted? I’m not a vegan (just vegetarian with overtones of pescatarianism), but why is animal tissue “meat” but the human version is “flesh”? While I am not suggesting that we start factory-farming prisoners, the poor, or sCAM practitioners, I cannot see why it is any worse to grind up a dead fetus (or any other dead bits) than to grind up a dead tiger or a rhino horn that was obtained by killing a perfectly innocent rhino.

    Also, since all the other creatures eat the placenta, why shouldn’t we? Not saying we should or have to, but why the revulsion if we do? There are those who think breastfeeding is revolting as well–especially when it is practiced beyond the babe-in-arms stage. Is the baby a “cannibal”? The correct term is autophagy, by the way and it’s been practiced by “primitives” forever, although mostly only in a ritual/religious way where only bits are actually ingested.

    Anyway, thanks for taking this on and exposing it–I’ll now be ready when a certain conspiracy theory-type person I know starts on about it. She already hates the Chinese for “killing the monks” in Tibet (not saying the Chinese aren’t repressing the Tibetans, but…).

  5. Hmm… Your comments in this thread interest me, DW; as a vegan myself, I have to wonder at the rather narrow definition of veganism that you’ve applied to me here. =o)

    In truth, vegans are not the absolutists you paint them to be; such a standard would be impossible to attain, and no sane person attempts to do so. Rather, vegans are generally interested in “doing as little harm as possible” as opposed to the apparent assumption of “being perfectly harmless”.

    Of course, the standards of what is “possible” are as numerous as there are vegans on the planet, though the base-line consensus might reasonably be asserted as something like “it is possible to avoid products and services that are known to require the death or subjugation of sentient beings”, wouldn’t you agree?

    As for your assertion that a placenta is an animal product, and is therefor non vegan, that seems like a hard case to make. After all, a mother nursing her baby is a perfectly normal activity for a vegan, and no rational person would argue otherwise. To be clear though, high among the reasons why nursing a baby isn’t non-vegan (if you’ll forgive the double negative) is because the milk is being freely given by the sentient being producing it, because the milk is being used for the purpose that it was clearly intended for, and the mother is (generally) not being subjugated or abused in the production of her milk. FWIW, while I personally would not feel comfortable eating a placenta, doing so does seem to more-or-less fall within the same categorization.

    Conversely commercial dairy milk consists of the glandular secretions of sentient beings, taken from them against their will and to their detriment. The creatures are sorely abused by the process, so much so that they cannot live past their childhood years (relatively speaking) and so are killed off in their youth. Further, these beings are force-bred annually (google “rape racks” for more on this), which results in her giving birth and lactating in order to feed her offspring.

    On rare occasion, this newborn is actually allowed to drink from its mothers utter for the first day — not out of kindness, mind you, but because her milk is filled with things that make it unmarketable (but which are vital to the health of a newborn calf) and natural nursing is a convenient way to dispose of this “by-product”. Whether the baby is removed immediately or after a day, if it’s female then it’s reared and follows its mothers path in life, but if it’s male then it’s either killed outright or staked to the ground in a little pen (to keep it tender) and killed in 9 to 12 months, all the while developing sores from being forced to sit in the same place, after which it’s served as “veal”.

    Clearly, animal sourced milk, and therefor the cheese in question, is a product requiring unnecessary cruelty to produce and which can be easily avoided. Therefore, it is not vegan. Does that make more sense now, DW?

    Egg production is even more cruel, but I’ll skip a detailed response to your inquiry on that at present as the point has probably been made and doing so here would not likely add significantly to the discourse. BUT, if this thread can tolerate a little humor, I’ll close by observing how surprising it often is to me how readily non-vegans will conceive (ingest and reinterpret) the motivations and philosophies of veganism, only to project these new ideas on to all vegans, seeming not to notice (if you will forgive an analogy) the left-over straw laying all about the floor. =oP

  6. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Sadly, the article on persecution of albinos no longer has a POV tag on it (the thing saying the article expresses undue weight). POV tags are not badges of shame for articles people disagree with, if there is no active discussion it should be removed.

    Brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood wikipedian.

  7. DW says:

    Oh dear – I don’t have time for a big argument today … I’ll try to come back tonight.

  8. LOL – in earnest, I hope we don’t have an argument at all! Instead, let’s have reasoned discourse, eh? =oP

  9. DevoutCatalyst says:

    Put another placenta on the anti-griddle, Janet, this vegan is salivating.

  10. MerColOzcopy says:

    Crap, now I’m wondering what’s in a “baby” aspirin.

    Once it’s ground up in a pill, how can they tell it came from a fetus, stillborn, or a not so stillborn???

  11. PJLandis says:

    I got excited when Sean mentioned humor, but I think he hit Submit before he finished the joke.

  12. Mark Crislip says:

    The Utubes are blocked at work so it will be a while before I can watch the video.

    I wonder if it represents a few isolated wackaloons or a more wide spread phenomena.

    I knew I should have learned Korean instead of French

  13. I didn’t know that a mother being “willful” transfers a magical connotation onto her milk that converts it from an animal product into a non-animal, vegan product. And placenta is vegan. Got it. Thanks. If anyone here hasn’t seen a placenta, it looks like an alien’s brain.

    (I’m so weird with meat I can only eat chicken breast, high dollar lean beef fillets, and that’s about it. The idea of eating a placenta makes me want to vomit.)

  14. mousethatroared says:

    China has been having a large crackdown on human trafficking in mostly children and some women. There have been some very well publicized convictions some with the death penalty.

    I’m a little skeptical that a doctor and a pharmacist were willing to talk with a stranger about how they are selling and or cooking babies.

    Here’s a kinda neat web-page summary for a guy who decided to trace the media trail of the story. http://kschang.hubpages.com/hub/Pills-made-from-dead-babies-really-How-news-get-sensationalized

    His summary. (sorry for the long quote)

    “How true is the news item then?

    With the above tracking done, there appears to be two possibilities;

    1) the AP writer in Korea co-mingled his sources and mis-attributed the SBS Investigative report to the South Korean Customs spokesman.

    2) Customs official, familiar with the SBS investigative report, cited it as “fact” without proper attribution, thus making it an official Customs “fact”.

    Either way, the two stories are co-mingled, and we can no longer tell which parts are absolutely true, and which parts are “probably true”.

    As for the TV report itself, blurry cam and editing makes it impossible to tell what were in the pills, while voice changer and voice-over made it impossible to hear the actual dialog. One of the blurry segment seem to show placenta, not entire dead babies or fetuses. On the other hand, there was a blurry shot of a red plastic basin with some black clumps inside of God-knows-what.

    The entire “we found human DNA” thing could be explained by placenta and other byproducts of birth. It would be difficult to ascertain if actual carcasses were used instead of merely placenta. It could even be exaggeration of their “guide”.”

  15. mousethatroared says:

    SkepticalHealth “If anyone here hasn’t seen a placenta, it looks like an alien’s brain.”

    I’ve never seen a placenta before…but I also have never seen an alien’s brain. It looks like placenta, I guess. :)

  16. DevoutCatalyst says:

    But tastes like chicken…

  17. Wow! That really *is* an amazing transmutation you speak of, SkepticalHealth! When/where did you see human breast milk converted in to a non-animal-sourced substance?! Such a thing sounds to fantastic to be true, but you seem so certain, soo…. ?

    … On the other hand, perhaps you are guilty of the same fault as others, and as are non-vegan are imposing your own strange, fantastic, impossible, and/or unobtainable definition of veganism on vegans, eh? =o)

  18. I am still undecided on this one, but leaning towards it being true. It seems the Korean media have gotten a bit closer to the story and found it to be credible, but then we have to rely on their journalism and there are some fishy parts of the story.

    Bottom line for me:
    - the story is possible
    - it smacks of urban legend, but this does not mean its not true
    - placenta pills is a plausible explanation for the story
    - but now we have reports of baby parts, not just DNA, and some shaky video – this is interesting, but not a definitive smoking gun

    So – probably true, but I would like to see smoking gun evidence, or at least an official government investigation with a definitive outcome.

  19. @Sean, no harm meant. I’m guilty of many things, but I’m definitely not guilty of deluding myself by warping a strange ideology to fit my needs.

  20. MerColOzcopy says:

    SkepH
    “I’m so weird with meat I can only eat chicken breast, high dollar lean beef fillets, and that’s about it.”

    Weird part, can’t argue with that:) Poor you, does your mummy still cut the crust off the bread for you?

    Ooooooh, “high dollar”.

    For all the vague studies you referred to about Vit. and Sup. causing cancer, you eat red meat?, you rebel!

    For those who ever eaten ground up or processed meat products, there is a good chance you have eaten animal fetus and placenta.

    So SkepH, your safe:))

  21. @SkepticalHealth: clearly, it is so.

  22. nobeardpete says:

    Surely you meant to mention Kevin Trudeau, author of “Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About”, not Gary Trudeau, author of “Doonesbury”?

    I used to live in Tanzania, which has a very high concentration of albinos. Being an albino in Tanzania is tough enough just due to being a very sunny country with primarily a subsistence farming economy. There aren’t many jobs that don’t involve a lot of sun exposure, which means a lot of the albinos have a lot of damage to their skin and are fairly disfigured. The fact that witchdoctors use albino parts in their charms takes the situation from bad to horrifying.

    Although I never made any particular investigation into this practice, I never heard of the albino parts being consumed. Most of them is apparently incorporated into various charms. Albino hair has use for fishing net charms, skin can bring wealth, limbs have other uses. It is widely believed in Tanzania, that a complete Albino can be sold of for parts for several thousand dollars. This is many multiples of the median yearly income, so it’s easy to see the appeal of hunting albinos to the more unscrupulous members of society. I suspect that, with a dead albino in hand, it turns out that the market is not as lucrative as was promised, but at that point it may be too late for the albino in question.

  23. DW says:

    Only have time for a quick google – surely not always reliable – but best I can find, most sources define veganism as the avoidance of animal-derived products. I’m sure that, as with anything, there is a range of practices and beliefs, but that seems to be the gist.

  24. @MercOzCopy, ha :) I say “high dollar” because cheap fillets tend to either taste like roast beef or be some other part of an animal that they pass off as fillet. In Mexico they would just fold a piece of flank steak over and cut it in a circle. It’s not a snobby thing, it’s just a weird thing with me and meat. If I want anything that uses beef (beef stew, kebabs, or even ground meat) I’ll use a filet. I eat red meat at most once a week, probably once every two weeks. Chicken maybe once or twice a week. Vegetables the rest. Sadly I don’t eat fish – it’s just the smell. I can’t stand to be in the same room as my wife if she eats tuna, etc. I know it’s healthy, but I just can’t stomach it.

    I don’t even want to think about what goes into ground beef. I wouldn’t doubt placenta, a fetus, or anything else, perhaps even a finger of a worker or two. I remember reading about an outbreak of neurocysticercosis or something and it turned out at the end of the meat processing line they were taking compressed air and shooting it into the skull of the animal to clean its brains out and were aerosolizing and then breathing in the pathogen. This was after they carved off the face meat, etc. Ugh.

    Although, to be honest, I don’t know why I feel fine eating the psoas major muscle (the fillet), but I’m disgusted with eating another piece of muscle. I can’t really justify that.

  25. DW says:

    Here’s what I found on snopes:

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/pepsi.asp

    - and here’s an interesting link suggesting how such rumors might spread … comical misunderstanding:

    http://www.snopes.com/business/market/babyfood.asp

  26. DW says:

    Whew, thanks a lot, skepticalhealth, you may have just put ME off meat for awhile too … :)

  27. DW says:

    “I’ll close by observing how surprising it often is to me how readily non-vegans will conceive (ingest and reinterpret) the motivations and philosophies of veganism, only to project these new ideas on to all vegans, seeming not to notice (if you will forgive an analogy) the left-over straw laying all about the floor. =oP”

    This is silly, as is your saying I have attributed opinions to YOU. I don’t even know you. I think my understanding of the term “vegan” was correct.

  28. DW says:

    “as for your assertion that a placenta is an animal product, and is therefor non vegan, that seems like a hard case to make.”

    What? A placenta is definitely an animal product. Most (all?) vegans don’t eat animal products.

  29. I’d love to know exactly what a placenta and a carrot have in common.

  30. DW says:

    “a mother nursing her baby is a perfectly normal activity for a vegan, and no rational person would argue otherwise.”

    I agree no rational person would disagree with a mother nursing her baby; nevertheless breast milk is an animal product. I think it’s a stretch to insist this is perfectly logically compatible with veganism; you’re forced to either claim humans aren’t animals, or to agree that it’s all right to make an exception when an animal is using her OWN product as she sees fit. Trying to argue that she’s using it “for the purpose it was intended for” is very fuzzy biologically, ethically, and philosophically. (The “purpose” could be construed many different ways, and not everyone would agree on them; and whose “intent” are we talking about?) It is also not correct to assume that breastfeeding never “subjugates” a mother, or that breastfeeding is never to the mother’s or her infant’s detriment. Therefore these distinctions really don’t work to separate breastfeeding from the concerns of veganism. (Which I personally think are overblown, nigh ridiculous sometimes, but am just trying to work with the issues you propose as central to the concerns of veganism.)

  31. annappaa says:

    It’s odd how it’s so difficult for some omnivores to grasp pretty simple tenets of veganism: It’s about minimizing harm. We see the consumption of animal products as entailing suffering, which is unnecessary for us to eat healthful, nutritionally balanced diets. Of course there are exceptions for certain animal products — including sperm, breast milk, and even placentas (though I am skeptical of health benefits in this case) — when they come from consenting human beings. Can these certain omnivores truly not see the difference between breastfeeding and factory farming, or are they not being honest with themselves? This is not mental gymnastics here. You might not share the particulars of our ethics but you should at least be able to grasp the premises upon which they are based.

  32. Mark Crislip says:

    I looked at the video referred to by Steve.

    I see no human bits in the blurred film. I did see Nessie, Sasquatch, a space alien and the outline of the face of Jesus however.

    And the person didn’t wear gloves when handling the frozen blurs. Euwwwww.

  33. MerColOzcopy says:

    I love how comments go off in different directions and seem to take on a life of their own.

    Let’s not lose sight of the idea that CAM and Cannibalism are some how related here!!

    Dr. Novella, no back pedaling or trying to qualify this idea. I am going to make reference to this post when some outlandish medical faux pas turns up in some third world country, and their source is the media:))

    I am betting I can get this to 70 comments, even for a friday post.

    This should get the kettle boiling… So if consuming ground up fetuses is Cannibalism (the eating of human flesh by another human being), then SBM would be inferring that fetuses are….. HUMAN?

  34. DW says:

    Annappa, I think you may be confusing not agreeing with your tenets with somehow not being able to grasp them. They don’t seem that complicated to me. I’m also not sure why you would assume you’re talking only to “omnivores.”

  35. DW says:

    I’m curious if someone, somewhere, has disputed that fetuses are human? Presumably you’re trying to start an abortion debate?

  36. bgoudie says:

    In that the consumption of human tissue is sufficiant to define an act as canablism, yes.
    That doesn’t make a fetus the same as a human being any more than my kidney counts as one.

    As for what makes something vegan or not, it doesn’t actually matter. It’s basicly moral masturbation for those who practice it, if it makes you feel good to claim that “willfully given” meat is somehow different from meat taken in a kill, more power to you.

  37. DW says:

    In fact it seems to me, annappa, that it’s because those tenets are so simple that it’s so easy to dispute them. They’re TOO simple. I’m certainly in favor of minimizing harm or suffering to animals, but the tenets of veganism seem to permit of many exceptions and confused philosophical points. Suggesting that people who disagree with you are “not honest with themselves” is not debating very well, either.

  38. mousethatroared says:

    Wow – folks (Mostly DW) are being kinda rough on the vegans. Personally I couldn’t care less what philosophy people use to choose their diet as long as they are not incredibly unhealthy in moderation and not trying to sell it to me. Of course I know I am not absolutely logically consistent in my eating habits, so I guess maybe I’m just trying to protect myself from hypocrisy.

    Personally, I put vegans in the same category as ethnic foods. I like to try new things in my diet if someone’s willing to come up with an interesting, yummy recipe and serve it on a plate (bowl, leaf, bun, platter) then I’m willing to try it (except bugs, cannibalism, eyeballs or veal, just not for me).

  39. annappaa says:

    DW: When you make comments such as “The theory is that ANY human use of animal products is exploitative, per se – even if one can make a convincing argument that the individual animal in question truly did not mind,” I assume that you’re not merely disagreeing with the tenets of veganism — you’re truly failing to grasp them. After all, that comment contains a pretty overt misrepresentation of general vegan ideals. Sure, most of us say “no animal products” as a convenient shorthand, which is necessary for easy communication, but if you dig deeper you will find that virtually none of us would be morally opposed to, for example, consensual breastfeeding. You’ve got to be kidding me if you think vegans are being hypocritical to endorse consensual breastfeeding, and that it’s a violation of our ethics.

    So when you go on to say that veganism contains “many … confused philosophical points,” I wonder if it’s the “philosophical points” that are confused or if it is in fact you who are confused about what exactly it means to be vegan. Now, I have no idea if you’re really confused or not; I have trouble believing that anyone reading this blog truly cannot differentiate between factory farming and breastfeeding, for example. But you do seem to have some kind of overt hostility toward vegans, as if we’re all one monolithic group. Maybe you’ve met a few “militants” in your life and react toward other vegans with preemptive defensiveness. I have no idea what motivates you.

    You’ll find great variation in individual vegans’ philosophies, which is unsurprising given that we’re all individuals and there are hundreds of thousands of us. You’ll also find that our philosophies run the gamut from “TOO simple” to incredibly nuanced. You could say this about any group, of course. Without anything to go on other than your comments here, though, it really seems to me that you don’t understand vegan ethics and have constructed a strawman that would be unrecognizable to many vegans.

    To bring this back to the original topic, somewhat, I’d like to point out that TCM is a place where vegans and skeptics can come together — whatever animal tissues are being ground up for use in a traditional preparation, we should be able to agree that it’s a travesty to slaughter animals, including many endangered animals, in the service of a modality for which there is no reliable evidence of efficacy.

  40. PJLandis says:

    I knew I’d seen someone eating fetuses before!

    It’s a Hong Kong horror film called Dumplings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumplings_(film) . And for what it’s worth, I thought it was pretty good.

    At first, I was thinking it’s kind of silly to acknowledge that people murder albinos for their organs while claiming that fetus/embryo pills were somehow incredible. But if eating fetus is considered horror in Hong Kong, admittedly still separated from most of China even after the British hand-over, then I do find it somewhat less likely.

    China Daily, a paper known to hew close to the Party line quotes a professor saying that it’s most likely placenta which has a history in Chinese medicine. And I think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a bad choice of comparison; these pills containing real fetus tissue, assuming the pills even exist, is unlikely and probably false, but a the existence of a Jewish cabal of bankers bent on destroying or enslaving all non-Jews is as false as evolution is true.

  41. pmoran says:

    Dead human flesh has a long history of medical use. It was referred to as “mummy” within European circles.

    Originally bits of authentic Egyptian mummies were the go, but a steady market for it led to substitutions and soon bits of executed criminals were found to work as well.

    I seem to have lost a wonderful quotation from a contemporary doctor describing which bits of dead flesh should be slected for medical use — I remember the first words —

    ” That which is stynkeing —”

  42. MerColOzcopy says:

    “Several Sydney doulas and naturopaths offer placenta encapsulation, charging around $250. ”

    “Research in the 1980s found that ingestion of placenta can enhance opioid-mediated analgesia (pain relief) in pregnant rats.”

    http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/birth/after-birth/i-had-my-placenta-encapsulated-20120328-1vxj7.html

  43. MercOzCopy,

    Thank you for reminding is why you picked that username. Here’s the full paragraph you selectively quoted:

    “So far, there have been no scientific studies on placenta ingestion by humans. Preliminary research in the 1980s found that ingestion of placenta can enhance opioid-mediated analgesia (pain relief) in pregnant rats.”

  44. I just can’t believe alt med whackos convince themselves that canabalism is “ok.” I really do feel like there’s a contest to see which group of people can be the stupidest.

  45. @annappaa: Thank you for giving it a shot — FWIW, *I* appreciate your efforts here. IMHO, such discussions may be a lost cause with regard to DW, et al., at present; there is a clearly certain narrative that they require to be “true” in order for them to persist with certain ideas, and high among these requirements are that vegans are illogical, inconsistent, and/or confused. Judging from from how they’ve reacted so far to any conversation herein that contradicts this base assumption, I’m fairly certain that they are not “in a place” that they can have open and honest discourse on vegan topics right now… buuut who knows – maybe some day, given enough time and space, they will overcome their shallow prejudices and be able to have an honest conversation about it, eh?

  46. Purenoiz says:

    The only problem I have with veganism is the will ignorance animals have played in human evolution. Omega-3′s from plants are not the same as those from fish. To be brief, short chain omega-3 essential fatty acids are not desaturated or elongated to any appreciable levels. Our brains need DHA, it is not produced from ALA.

    http://www.issfal.org/statements/pufa-recommendations/statement-5

  47. rmgw says:

    DW: Veganism is not essentially about the consumption of animal products: it is an ethical system which tries as far as possible to avoid the use OR consumption of products taken from nonhuman species. Of course, feeding babies with human breast milk has no unethical aspect: neither, so far as I can see, has the consumption of human placentas, provided they were willingly supplied. The point is not to exploit nonhumans nor to terminate their lives, in which they have an interest, unnecessarily. Since the consumption and use of these products is actually unnecessary for most of us, the taking of nonhuman lives and exploitation of nonhuman reproductive processes is unethical and vegans endeavour to avoid these things as far as possible

    Vegans thus try to work out how to take up an appropriate amount of the planet’s resources, too, rather than holding on to outmoded notions of man’s domination of other species and the rest of the world for his own benefits, and grabbing all he can get regardless of the suffering and death imposed on the defenceless.

    For interesting philosophical work going on around these issues, I recommend Matthew Calarco’s “Zoographies” and Carey Wolfe’s “Animal Rites”, as well as Mark Rowland’s “Animal Rights” and the work of the feminist care philosophers, Josephine Donovan, Carol Adams and the late Marti Kheel.

  48. annappaa says:

    @Sean P. O. MacCath-Moran — Thank you, and I appreciate your presence here as well. I fear you’re probably correct. The only reason I feel compelled to speak up in these situations is because I’d like more visibility for skeptical vegans. Yes, there are a lot of vegans who believe the way they eat is a magic cure-all diet, are there are a lot who believe in alternative medicine, are opposed to certain technologies, and favor narratives about health or evolution that might not be based in evidence, but that doesn’t mean we’re all like that. I’m always happy when I see skeptical vegans speak up in these debates, so I think that means I have to do so as well, regardless of all the annoying claims that get bandied about:

    * DW’s stated belief that the “no animal products” maxim is so rigid that it prohibits the consumption of consensually obtained breastmilk, placenta, sperm, or whatever else floats your boat, depending on how freaky you are. :) Does s/he really believe the maxim is that rigid, or does s/he think we should be explaining our diets to relatives and waiters in a more long-winded but nuanced fashion? When I go to a restaurant I just assume that placentas aren’t going to be on the menu anyway; no need to go into those exceptions to the rule!

    * SkepticalHealth’s implied claim that vegans might believe that products such as breastmilk are actually not “animal products,” possibly implying that vegans are too stupid to know that humans are members of the animal kingdom

    * DW elaborates on this point: “I think it’s a stretch to insist [breastfeeding] is perfectly logically compatible with veganism; you’re forced to either claim humans aren’t animals, or to agree that it’s all right to make an exception when an animal is using her OWN product as she sees fit.” How is making an exception for consensual activities like breastfeeding a problem? How is that a “stretch”? It’s commonsense and in normal circumstances does not represent a violation of an animal’s rights or consent.

    * DW: Vegan ethics “don’t seem that complicated to me”; they are “TOO simple”; they contain “confused philosophical points” — to me this is evidence that DW’s conception of veganism is actually what is confused and overly simplified.

    *bgoudie: veganism is “moral masturbation for those who practice it” — when I hear comments like these, I wonder what kinds of vegans this person has met. You know the people who are most likely to get in your face about veganism are the “moral masturbators,” right? While the vegan non-masturbatory majority don’t get in your face, and therefore you have no idea what proportion of the vegan population they constitute. We all make ethical choices in our lives, but when I do something different from you suddenly my choices are “moral masturbation” while yours somehow aren’t?

    *Purenoiz: vegans demonstrate “will[ful] ignorance animals have played in human evolution” — first of all, the vast majority of the public is ignorant about evolution, willfully or not, so it’s not really fair to single out vegans for being scientifically illiterate. Second of all, I believe that most scientifically literate vegans would acknowledge the role meat played in our evolution, but would also point out that our current circumstances often give us access to a wider variety of readily available foods, meaning that we can make different choices about what to eat.

    By the way, to answer DW’s first question, I recently saw this interesting article about the putative health benefits of eating placenta. It links to the peer-reviewed paper, which I haven’t read myself.

  49. Oh god, spare me. Now we have vegans coming here telling us we are all too dumb to understand why it’s bad to eat a chicken that was raised specifically for that purpose, but cannibalism is perfectly fine. There’s certainly no shortage of crazy in this world.

  50. Let’s be honest, eating the placenta is a stupid thing that some weirdos do to make themselves feel unique and enlightened and “natural.” It is cannibalism, and whomever does it will warp whatever strange ideology they are already following it in order to make it fit. It’s a form of denial.

  51. lilady says:

    It seems that January Jones, the actress who portrays “Betty” in the Mad Men popular TV series, has given the movement to “Eat Your Placenta”, new life…

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/03/26/mad-mom-january-jones-eats-her-own-placenta/

    And, here’s a yummy recipe for your own placenta…

    http://www.drmomma.org/2012/04/chocolate-placenta-truffles.html

    The author of that article is Doula David, who runs his own little “placental encapsulation” business…

    http://douladavid.com/Placenta-Preparation.php

    And, for $ 295, you too, can get “certification” as a “placental encapsulation” specialist…

    http://placentabenefits.info/certification.asp

  52. Wow… There are really only two options at this point: @SkepticalHealth is either a deliberate troll who is flinging hate around in a desperate attempt to validate a deeply seated case of cognitive dissonance, or s/he is not bright enough to read and understand what s/he is responding to. While I’m tempted to give the benefit of the doubt and assume the latter, I’m pretty much done conversing with him/her either way.

  53. DW says:

    Once again I don’t have time for a really full reply (have not read all the replies yet, but I will later) – but just want to say I’m not sure how I have been “hard” on vegans, or “require” them to be confused etc. All I’ve said is that 1) based on the definition of veganism as I understand it – and I keep trying to confirm it and coming up with the same thing – eating a placenta would not be vegan (and breastfeeding is a bit iffy also, as it does involve consuming an animal product) and 2) though the vegans here are protesting this, as far as I can determine – from various online sources; admittedly I do not have indepth knowledge so perhaps these sources are wrong? – but according to what I find, the definition of veganism is “not eating animal products.” The definition I see offered here, instead, seems to be along the line of “trying not to do a lot of harm,” but unless I’ve missed something along the way that’s just not what veganism means. Lots of us try to minimize harm to animals; some of us even work in animal rescue!! But that’s not the same thing as being vegan, as far as I can tell. I also try not to harm animals, and I do work that aims to minimize the harm done to animals, and educate other people about how to not only avoid harming animals but actually HELP animals, but, believe it or not, I’m not vegan.

    In real life, I’m sure there are people who eat all kinds of animal products who also call themselves “vegan,” just as there are people who call themselves “vegetarian” who eat a little meat now and then, and people who say they “don’t smoke” when what they really mean is something like, they only smoke at parties or on weekends or when under stress or on the Fourth of July. C’est la vie – not sure how I am being unreasonable here, as the perception seems and despite silly replies that suggest I “can’t tell the difference between breastfeeding and factory farming.”

  54. Wow, condescension from a hypocritical cannibal who shares a house with a tattooed troll who writes poetry about goblins and witches. Congratulations on being an “ethical vegetarian.”

  55. C.S. MacCath says:

    Well, I’m afraid I have no poetry about goblins or witches on offer, but I do have several well-reviewed pieces about climate change, sacred landscapes and other topics of interest to speculative fiction readers. And since all publicity is good publicity, you can find those two pieces here:

    http://www.strangehorizons.com/2010/20100920/maccath-p.shtml
    http://www.goblinfruit.net/2011/fall/poems/?poem=arrived

    As for my tattoos, I wasn’t aware they were synonymous with a failing of moral character. Is it the ink itself that damns us or the art, I wonder? Is the long slide from virtue to vice instantaneous, or does it happen gradually as the ink-bearer wears the evidence of her damnation? Interesting questions, all.

    And I assure you the only reason I charge a toll to cross my bridge is for the purpose of maintenance. It’s a tax, really, and nothing more! The only time I come out from beneath it is when I don’t hear the clink of coins in my collection jar. Then I’m positively unpleasant. >;)

  56. Morticia says:

    And I thought “fetus breath” was just a put down. Thank you for the laughs. Very entertaining. Now, where is that RSS button?

  57. Morticia says:

    And I thought “fetus breath” was just a put down. Or was it a punk band? Thank you for the laughs. Very entertaining. Now, where is that RSS button?

  58. @CSMacCath,

    Just to clarify, this is your “well-reviewed” poetry?

    “Lie down in my salt-spattered pine needles
    and listen, your ear to the earth,
    for the languages speaking in my bones;
    Mi’kmaq, Gàidhlig, French, English,
    these are the voices of your welcome.

    Let me give this a go…

    Speaking gibberish of giblets and game,
    my husband he hyphenated his name,
    it’s ok if I eat my placenta,
    otherwise only carrots, er, I meant uh,
    a cannibal? No! You’re insane!

  59. (Please don’t take that as an attack, I’m just having fun with you.)

  60. MerColOzcopy says:

    Wow, I thought Mercola’s crowd were nuts, you guys here need to get a life.

  61. mousethatroared says:

    @SkepticalHealth – Getting in touch with your inner adolescent, I see.

  62. irenedelse says:

    @ DW wrote:

    “Once again I don’t have time for a really full reply (have not read all the replies yet, but I will later) – but just want to say I’m not sure how I have been “hard” on vegans, or “require” them to be confused etc. All I’ve said is that 1) based on the definition of veganism as I understand it – and I keep trying to confirm it and coming up with the same thing – eating a placenta would not be vegan (and breastfeeding is a bit iffy also, as it does involve consuming an animal product) and 2) though the vegans here are protesting this, as far as I can determine – from various online sources; admittedly I do not have indepth knowledge so perhaps these sources are wrong? – but according to what I find, the definition of veganism is “not eating animal products.” The definition I see offered here, instead, seems to be along the line of “trying not to do a lot of harm,” but unless I’ve missed something along the way that’s just not what veganism means.”

    I don’t think you’re confused at all. I think some of the vegan commentators here (hello, Sean!) are using a definition of veganism that is so broad as being meaningless. And maybe a little disingenuous. “Reducing harm to animals” is not only a goal of veganism, but also of people who care about animal welfare in general. It includes omnivores (and other kinds of diets and lifestyles) who don’t buy products from factory farming if they can help it, favoring small farmers who treat their animals well and kill them without unnecessary harm. It includes people who simply cut down on their meat and other animal products consumption so as to reduce their environmental footprint. It includes Buddhists and animal rights activists. It includes ovo-lacto-vegetarians who eat some animal products but draw the line at killing animals.

    No, what really distinguishes the vegans from these other philosophies, diets and lifestyle is the ban on using animal products for food. (And if one wants to be really serious, also in cosmetics, clothes, shoes, etc.)

    But I get why an exception can be made for human animal products, as long as it’s voluntary, as in breastfeeding. Or eating your own placenta if you think it’s good for you. (Which is debatable.) Ethically, the difference between humans and other animals is that humans can give *consent*. And if your philosophy is that animals should have the same rights as humans, including the right to live and the right to not be exploited, then logically you don’t kill animals or even take their milk or eggs if the animal can’t agree to give it to you! But a mother feeding a child is A-OK, as is the donation of sperm or ovocytes to fecundity clinics, or the use of placenta for food or cosmetics as long as it’s given freely and not taken by force or ruse.

  63. mrsdahmer says:

    first of all, being ‘vegan’ is not joining a club and, adhering to some prescribed set of rules to maintain membership. Therefore, saying that ‘vegans’ as a whole, have a particular view on a subject is a stereotype. Everyone is an individual and has their own ideas and reasoning, and does what they feel is right for themselves. A placenta is not alive, and never would or could become a life. And, once the baby is finished with it, it has no use to the person it WAS a part of. The body expels it naturally after giving birth. Its ONLY value to ANY life is nutritional. If nothing else is done with it, it is destroyed and discarded. Therefore, eating it would not be in any way “bad, or “wrong”. In nature thats what is done, and it has very high nutritional value, which is very important for a nursing mother. It is simply social conditioning and cultural “taboo” that gives a person negative thoughts about such a practice. As far as consuming an embryo or fetus that has been miscarried or aborted, it may be looked at by some people, in some cultures, as “eating something that is going to be discarded anyway” and if they believe that it is going to “cure a disease” or even possibly save a life, some may be able to put aside any moral reservations they may have. I think Americans are much more reserved and critical about their food choices than possibly any other country, and the Chinese and koreans food choices i think have commonly struck us as odd, unusual, and even “disgusting”. Unlike the author of this story, i HAVE heard of this practice, and in fact, even seen a documentary about it. im not certain about the truth of such a practice but, im sure it exists. What is logical for some, may be madness for others, and vice versa.

  64. DW says:

    Ok, I acknowledge this was research at the University of Google, and I don’t have indepth knowledge of this topic. Also, I think it’s interesting it’s assumed I’m somehow hostile to veganism – I’m definitely not, I admire it. All I said was that if the idea is not to eat animal products, eating the placenta can’t be reconciled with this philosophy and even breastfeeding is problematic.

    So, I know the following sources are not necessarily indepth, nuanced sources on all possible complex issues regarding veganism. However, they’re statements from major vegan advocacy organizations – if they’re wrong, or misleading, then vegans sorely need to work on their outreach efforts, it seems.

    From wikipedia:
    Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism

    From vegan.org:
    A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products.
    http://vegan.org/learn/

    From “answers to some of those tricky questions/ challenges” at the Vegan Society:
    Question: What is a vegan?
    Answer: A vegan is someone who tries to live without exploiting animals, for the benefit of animals, people and the planet. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, with nothing coming from animals – no meat, milk, eggs or honey, for example. A vegan lifestyle also avoids leather, wool, silk and other animal products for clothing or any other purpose.
    http://www.vegansociety.com/resources/tricky-questions.aspx

    From “happycow.net”:
    The word “vegan” (pronounced ‘VEE-gan’) originated from a British man named Donald Watson who had wanted an appropriate name to describe what a ‘”100% vegetarian’” has always eaten, as distinguished from other types of mixed plant & animal product dietary choices. He called his newsletter “The Vegan News” and described veganism as “the practice of living on fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, and other wholesome non-animal products.”
    http://www.happycow.net/vegan_diet.html

    dictionary.com definition of vegan: a vegetarian who omits all animal products from the diet.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vegan

    From American Vegans:
    What is Vegan?
    VEGANS (pronounced VEE-guns) Live on products of the plant kingdom.
    http://www.americanvegan.org/vegan.htm

    Ok? So either these definitions, provided by leading advocates of veganism, are wrong, or consuming human organs or secretions isn’t vegan. Sorry to all the defensive vegans here, but the problem is not my lack of understanding, guys …

  65. C.S. MacCath says:

    Those stanzas are from “When I Arrived, This Is What She Said”, which has been nominated for the 2012 Rhysling Award for excellence in speculative poetry. A full list of the nominees can be found here:
    http://www.sfsite.com/news/2012/04/13/rhysling-nominees/

    For those of you interested in poetry, you’re in luck! Many speculative poetry journals are online, so if you Google the nominees and their work, you’ll find a number of fine poems freely available for you to read. Enjoy!

  66. DW says:

    I submitted a comment which is awaiting moderation, presumably because it has a bunch of links. But I’ll reply to this in the meantime:

    “DW: Veganism is not essentially about the consumption of animal products: it is an ethical system which tries as far as possible to avoid the use OR consumption of products taken from nonhuman species. Of course, feeding babies with human breast milk has no unethical aspect: neither, so far as I can see, has the consumption of human placentas, provided they were willingly supplied. The point is not to exploit nonhumans nor to terminate their lives, in which they have an interest, unnecessarily. Since the consumption and use of these products is actually unnecessary for most of us, the taking of nonhuman lives and exploitation of nonhuman reproductive processes is unethical and vegans endeavour to avoid these things as far as possible ”

    I fully admire the desire to consume as few resources as possible and not to exploit anybody, of any species. But there are some problems here. If veganism is “not essentially about the consumption of animal products,” then vegans need to do a far better job educating the public about what they are all about, since every source I can find easily, short of reading scholarly works on the subject, indeed states that veganism is essentially about not consuming animal products.

    Second, referring to placentas, you state that “the consumption and use of these products is actually unnecessary for most of us …”but this does not clear up the problem, because the consumption of breast milk, at least in the West, for most people is also not necessary for survival, or necessarily even for optimal health. Sure, it’s better; but that just can’t be the principle involved – lots of foods are better or healthier for us than lots of other foods, without it being morally superior to eat one or the other. In some places in the developing world, breast milk is essential to human survival; in many other places in the world it’s not.

    And the point I made about breastfeeding not necessarily NOT subjugating the mother was a serious one – interesting that no one takes that on. Breastfeeding makes a fabulous case in point for the difficulties in sorting out when an animal is being “exploited” – absolutely fabulous. I hope I’ve just given a great idea to some student looking for a dissertation topic :) The issues are thorny.

  67. DW says:

    I would further suggest that quietly inserting the word “nonhuman” in front of “animals” to explain veganism (as not exploiting animals) doesn’t entirely clear up the problem. There seems to me a really fundamental problem in strictly separating humans from other animals – a problem really crucial in figuring out what veganism is or what vegans stand for. How do you isolate one particular animal from your concerns about all animals? Why would human “animal products” be in some qualitatively different category from other animal products? Because WE are human? Does that really clear it right up? I don’t think it’s a small point.

  68. irenedelse says:

    @ DW: I commented in response to your last comment yesterday, but it’s still stuck in moderation. Don’t know why, there’s no link inside. Maybe I’ll try reposting it again.

  69. DW says:

    Irene, yes, thank you – you basically made my point more clearly. Veganism is a word that has a specific definition: not eating (or in stricter forms, not using in any way) animal products. There are lots of other philosophies regarding the dietary and other uses/abuses of animals, animal rights etc. The vegans writing here seem to me to want, as you say, to expand the definition so that there’s no contradiction in breastfeeding or eating a placenta. I think that explains the defensiveness. I certainly don’t PERSONALLY have a problem with breastfeeding or eating a placenta! (though the latter is fairly silly).

    I also “get” why an exception would be made for human “animal products.” I’ve just been pointing out that making this exception calls some of the fundamental principles into question. The vegans here don’t want to address that; they prefer to insist others are “misunderstanding.”

    “Ethically, the difference between humans and other animals is that humans can give *consent”

    I do not think “consent” is nearly so simple as that – once again, positing a clearcut distinction between humans and (other) animals in this regard is problematic. An argument can be made that animals DO consent to many of their interactions and transactions with humans – they may not understand the exact purposes to which humans plan to put particular products they have “transacted” with us for, but the transaction per se would need to be considered in the context of the larger relationship. It’s not like, you just can’t take a chicken’s egg because the chicken doesn’t speak English and you can’t politely ask her first. (I realize, of course, that the arguments about factory farming are a lot more complicated than this; I’m just pointing out that “consent” per se is not the entire issue by a long shot.)

    Conversely, probably there are also cases where humans conduct transactions of their organs or bodily fluids where even if they are ostensibly giving consent, they are actually NOT consenting in larger senses of the term. Consider feminist critiques of the breastfeeding culture. Women historically “consented” to a lot of things because they had very few choices economically. The examples of sperm banks and egg donation are another great example of where this could go wrong. (Or surrogate motherhood.)

    Again, my point is that “ability to give consent” is too simple a dividing line between humans and other animals.

    Mrsdahmer:

    “first of all, being ‘vegan’ is not joining a club and, adhering to some prescribed set of rules to maintain membership. Therefore, saying that ‘vegans’ as a whole, have a particular view on a subject is a stereotype.”

    This is simply silly – it is not a “stereotype” to point out, no matter how the vegans here squirm, that veganism basically means avoiding eating animal products. Give us a break, you are not being “stereotyped.“ Look up the word “vegan” in the dictionary if you don’t believe me.

    “A placenta is not alive, and never would or could become a life.”

    Neither is a piece of cheese. Doesn’t work, to draw this line.

  70. DW says:

    I wrote:

    “An argument can be made that animals DO consent to many of their interactions and transactions with humans – they may not understand the exact purposes to which humans plan to put particular products they have “transacted” with us for, but the transaction per se would need to be considered in the context of the larger relationship.”

    For instance, I think it’s completely silly to believe that a sheep is being abused if it’s sheared for its wool. (I’m a knitter …)

    There are certainly situations where the sheep aren’t treated well, and it would make sense to boycott use of the wool. But that ethical code would be something like, “Don’t abuse animals.” That’s not what veganism is.

  71. irenedelse says:

    @ mrsdahmer:

    “A placenta is not alive, and never would or could become a life. And, once the baby is finished with it, it has no use to the person it WAS a part of.”

    Actually, a placenta *is* alive, in the way your liver or your skin (or, as a child’s baby tee is alive: it’s an fully functioning organ, made up of living cells. Or a better simile would be a child’s baby’s teeth, which are also temporary features that the individual doesn’t need any more after they finished their function.

    Maybe you mean here that a placenta is not an independently organism, as is a human being or an animal? But then, a carrot is also a living individual organism, where a chicken’s unfertilized egg isn’t! Nor is milk. “Alive” or “not alive” isn’t much of a rationale for veganism, when one thinks about it.

  72. DW says:

    It’s simply complete silliness to claim that placenta or breast milk aren’t animal products, which is what I originally pointed out that got the vegans so irked.

  73. irenedelse says:

    DW:

    “Again, my point is that “ability to give consent” is too simple a dividing line between humans and other animals.”

    Agreed. BTW, I was not claiming it for my own philosophy, only attempting to sketch out one of the hidden rationales I could see between veganism and other philosophical systems which also attempt to minimize the harm to living, sentient beings. To rationalize the avoidance of all animal products, but not human tissue or breast milk, one has to assume somehow that animals (but not plants or fungi or bacteria) should never be exploited, even in the most humane manner. In turn, this entails granting the same rights to all living beings that are able to feel pain, while allowing that animals don’t have the same ability as humans to enter into contracts. Seems a bit arbitrary to me.

    Now, I have some vegan friends (I’m not one, myself) who just acknowledge that they don’t like the idea of animals in a pen, or being cut up, and that this prevent them from eating meat from an emotional point of view. I respect that. It’s their right to feel that way and live in accordance to their ideas, as long as it harms no-one.

  74. DW says:

    I completely agree, Irene.

  75. I find two things humorous:

    1. That vegans would look down upon the world because they consume animal products against the will of the animal, but then they would eat a human placenta, which is … just disgusting. Trying to justify it as some type of health benefit is ridiculous, because even if there is a “health benefit,” it’s not some unique benefit that is unobtainable elsewhere. It’s just bizarre.

    2. That most people defending cannibalistic placenta consumption have hyperlinks that bring you to websites full of very strange science fiction and fantasy world discussion. Lots of features of schizotypal personality disorder. I’d imagine these are the same people that dress up like the 1200s and cry because a tree was cut down, and I would guess that they have many other very strange things going on.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJFYwRtrH4

  76. DW says:

    But I don’t think we can call eating the placenta cannibalism, unless we also want to call breastfeeding cannibalism.

  77. PharmDee says:

    not that it relates…but on the same “gruesome” appearing and possibly politically motivated news stories (or not)…I had a natural news facebook post about aborted fetal tissue used by pepsi and “approved by the Obama administration”…..

    http://www.naturalnews.com/035276_Pepsi_fetal_cells_business_operations.html

    Sounds similar to the kind of rantings about aborted fetuses used for vaccines…I am guessing that this is a cell line that originally was derived perhaps from an aborted fetus from circa 1965….

  78. mousethatroared says:

    SkepticalHealth claims

    “1. That vegans would look down upon the world because they consume animal products against the will of the animal, but then they would eat a human placenta, which is … just disgusting”

    Why do you think that vegans would look down upon the world? Do you know the percentage of vegans who look down upon the world and how that overlaps with the people who would* eat placenta? How does one measure the people who would eat placenta?

    and “That most people defending cannibalistic placenta consumption have hyperlinks that bring you to websites full of very strange science fiction and fantasy world discussion.”

    Most people? How do you know that? I don’t see any supporting evidence for any of your generalizations.

    How can two things (strange sci-fi and fantasy world discussions) be LOTS of features of a personality disorder. Every DSM criteria I’ve ever read requires much more detail than two criteria. But, yeah, you’re not serious about the diagnoses, you’re just using psychiatric diagnoses to insult people. As the family member of people with similar diagnoses, let me thank you (sarcasm) for playing upon the stigma of a psychiatric diagnoses in an attempt to score points. It great when people who claim to know about medicine spread misinformation about psychiatric conditions.

  79. @mouse, I think you’re choking on placenta. :)

  80. LMAO says:

    Love the way some vegans are so ready to make sweeping generalizations, and to speak on behalf of vegans as a group…

    I had a family member one who was vegan because he…

    1. Disliked the taste/texture of most meats and eggs
    2. Found that most dairy products did not agree with him
    3. Felt better/healthier after he adopted an all-plant diet
    4. Was a starving-artist type and found a vegan diet much more affordable/practical

    In a nutshell (pun intended), he did it because it was cheaper and more comfortable for him.

    He had absolutely no philosophical reasons for doing so. He still wore leather and wool and had feather pillows and a down duvet (I know, because I gave them to him). He had no objection to others’ consumption of animal products or flesh. He didn’t preach or advocate against meat-eating. He ate honey. He would probably have eaten real butter, but it’s expensive and he was worried about his cholesterol levels.

  81. LMAO says:

    Variation on a theme… a slightly different Snopes reference to fetus-eating Asians… rather amusing (and pathetic at the same time):

    http://www.snopes.com/horrors/cannibal/fetus.asp

  82. mousethatroared says:

    @skepticalhealth – Nope, I’m choking on the irony of someone making the statements you’re making calling themselves a skeptic.

  83. DWATC says:

    Have we considered that “vegan” is like any other classification that is a spectrum of ideologies and that the practitioners rarely follow the initial definition….kind of like “christian”. We are a species of followers and conformists, constantly seeking an authority or guide. We try to find those that shares ideologies, but at the same time proclaim “individuality” and that we are each special (but we are all pretty much the same). Anyway, I feel “vegan” is no different. They want the title, because we all like to classify our beliefs to distinguish ourselves, but the ‘individual’ wants the liberty to “have it their way”. …..semantics basically, just like any other philosophical debate. Welcome to America!
    I’m an omnivore. We are currently not in a state of society to abandon animal product use yet unfortunately. The upper middle class, caucasian, suburban, stay-at-home housewife can afford a “vegan” lifestyle, and her husband can write a blog on natural news telling us what other cure for cancer is out right now in the fresh foods and spices section…..not “stereotyping” or anything. Its a choice of lifestyle. ;-)

Comments are closed.