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.”


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.

* 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

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