New Publication: Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil

The article resulting from the collaborative study I conducted in Brazil is now available online first. It is currently open access. It will be published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 

Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil


Little is known about public perspectives of scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas. Gaps in knowledge potentiate ethical and clinical problems regarding collection and applications. As such, this study sought to assess the perspectives of placenta donation of a sample of women. Postpartum women’s perspectives on placental donation were assessed at the State University of Campinas in the Centro de Atençäo Integral a Saúde da Mulher (CAISM) maternity hospital using a cross-sectional survey (n = 384) and semi-structured interviews (n = 12). Surveys were analyzed quantitatively and interviews were analyzed qualitatively using grounded coding; results were compared. The average age of respondents was 27. Fifty-six percent had more than one child, 45% were Caucasian, 38% were mixed-race, 74% identified with a Christian faith, 52% had high school education or higher, 13% regarded the placenta as spiritually important, 72% felt that knowing what happens to the placenta after birth was somewhat or very important, 78% supported the use of the placenta in research and medicine, 59% reported that consent to collect the placenta was very or somewhat important, 78% preferred their doctor to invite donation, and only 7% preferred the researcher to invite donation. Interviews suggested women appreciate being part of research and that receiving information about studies was important to them. Informed by these results, we argue that women support scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas, want to be included in decision making, and desire information about the placenta. Placentas should not be viewed as “throwaway” organs that are poised for collection without the involvement and permission of women. Women want to be meaningfully included in research processes.

Authors: Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa, Maria José Duarte Osis, Simony Lira Nascimento, Silvana Ferreira Bento, Ana Carolina Godoy, Suelene Coelho, and José Guilherme Cecatti

I would like to thank the anonymous reviews and editors of the journal for their incredibly thoughtful comments. Their contribution raised the quality of this article immensely.

I’m very excited about the contribution this research makes regarding public perspectives of the use of human placentas in scientific research and medicine. They survey instrument that was developed for this study can be deployed in other locations toward the development of locally-appropriate protocols and practices regarding human placental donation, collection, and research. Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating on a survey of another population!

Upcoming Lecture: Reproductive Labour in/of Science and Medicine

On October 23 (note: start time was changed; 2:30pm-4pm AQ 6106 Burnaby Campus), I will be giving a lecture for the Labour Studies Program and the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. I feel very privileged to be invited to give this talk at my alma mater. Here is the title and abstract! All are welcome!

Reproductive Labour in/of Science and Medicine

In labour studies, reproductive labour is typically defined as the activities involved in taking care of others on a daily basis in households. Reproductive labour, including cooking, cleaning, and socializing children, is typically unpaid as well as gendered and racialized, being performed disproportionately by women and minorities. However, in emerging research in labour studies, scholars are also increasingly paying attention to new forms of reproductive labour performed by women in conjunction with biomedicine and biological sciences. In developed countries everywhere birth rates are declining, impacting economies in profound ways and leading to shifts in public policy on labour markets, retirement, and immigration. At the same time and in the interest of mitigating these shifts, the advancement of reproductive technologies and new medical interventions into pregnancy and labour have commercialized, managed, and modernized reproduction. Women’s and fetal bodies are not only the sites of these interventions; increasingly, they are the sources of their ‘raw materials,’ which include stem cells, embryos, and other tissues of pregnancy such as placentas. The meaning of women’s labour, including their reproductive and economic labours, is thereby redefined. This lecture explores women’s labour in the context of reproductive sciences and medicine. Discussing results from two empirical research studies in placentology, or the science of placentas, the lecture explores how women are simultaneously marginalized, empowered, and interpellated into the projects of reproductive science and medicine. It also explores fundamental questions about how different academic disciplines study and theorize reproduction in a world in which science is increasingly defining and managing it. It is argued that transdisciplinary approaches to studying reproductive labour, which pursue novel methodologies and theories that are integrative of different knowledges, can help to democratize science and medicine while also advancing the health and wellbeing of women, children, families, and communities.

Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa Poster

Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa Poster(1)

Placentations: Agential Realism and the Science of Afterbirths

It is now possible to download my dissertation entitled “Placentations: Agential Realism and the Science of Afterbirths” from the Queen’s Research and Learning Repository (QShare). Follow this link! And the abstract:

According to biological sciences, placentas are transient organs that are necessary for mammalian fetal development and produced by interaction of maternal and fetal cells, a process called “placentation.” The aim of this dissertation is to understand as well as elucidate effects of placentations. I employ an agential realist framework to do this analysis. As developed by Karen Barad, agential realism is a performative theory of the irreducible entanglement of matter and discourse that relates knowing and being as inseparable. Intra-action is the foundational operationalization of agential realism. Unlike interaction, which assumes that agential entities pre-exist their meeting, intra-action refers to the entanglement of mutually constituted agencies. Informed by this ‘onto-epistemology,’ I define placentation as the differential and entangled intra- and inter-species, intra- and inter-cultural, and intra- and inter-disciplinary production of placentas. This definition is ‘naturalcultural,’ presuming that nature and culture are not distinct realms occupied by distinct kinds of beings. Rather, such a duality is a performative effect of what Barad calls agential cuts enacted by the specific apparatuses that are employed to understand it. To understand placentation naturalculturally requires the breaching of disciplinary boundaries that relegate ‘culture’ as a topic proper to the social sciences and ‘nature’ to science. This dissertation breaches these boundaries, and in so doing opens up new avenues for thinking about placentations and their consequences. In order to empirically explore placentations, I interviewed and/or observed 31 scientists who study placentas, and reviewed scientific and other secondary sources. The main findings of this dissertation concern differences made by theorizing placentas in particular ways. Based on these findings, I argue that understanding placentations naturalculturally is not only a more accurate approach than the one predicating dominant scientific explanations, but also prompts new ethical, theoretical, and practical considerations concerning pregnancy, bioethics, environmentalism, health, and more.

Public Perspectives on the Utilization of Human Placentas in Scientific Research and Medicine: New Publication

I have a new publication appearing in the journal Placenta entitled “Public perspectives on the utilization of human placentas in scientific research and medicine.” Here is the abstract:

Placental tissues are frequently utilized by scientists studying pregnancy and reproduction and in diverse fields including immunology, stem cell research, genetics, cancer research, and tissue engineering, as well as by clinicians in many therapies. Though the utilization of the human placenta in science and medicine has benefitted many people, little is known about public perspectives of this phenomenon. This review addresses placental donation, collection, and utilization in science and medicine, focusing on public perspectives. Cultural values and traditions, ethical paradigms and concerns, public understandings of science and medicine, and political considerations may impact perceptions of the utilization of the placenta in science and medicine, but systematic study is lacking. It is argued that knowledge of public views gained from empirical investigation may underpin the development of collection protocols and research projects that are more responsive to public will, spur more extensive utilization in science and medicine of this unique organ, and/or aid in the realization of the mobilization of knowledge about the placenta for clinical and educational ends. New avenues for research on public perspectives of the placenta are proposed.

Keywords: Placenta donation, Public understandings of science, Ethics, Donor perceptions

I wrote this article to point to the lack of research on public perspectives of the placenta, address the implications of this gap, and call for more research attention. The article serves as a backdrop for one of my current collaborative studies, which assesses women’s perspectives of donating the placenta to science and medicine in Campinas, Brazil.

I would like to thank the editors of Placenta and their anonymous reviewers. I was impressed by the process, feedback, and their willingness to consider publishing the work of a social scientist in a scientific journal.

I am very interested to hear comments and in particular would like to know of the perspectives of women who have given birth, women who have donated their placentas or been asked to donate, and scientists who study the organ. What is the meaning of the placenta for you? What do you think about the use of placentas in scientific research and medicine?

Farewell, Brasil, Despedida

Tomorrow I leave Brazil to go home to Canada, a parting that will be bittersweet. Brazil was a pleasant surprise in my life. I never could have guessed I would be living in Brazil for 5 months in the last year of my PhD. It is true that Brazil did not seem to come at an ideal time. I was just beginning to write my dissertation when I decided to come to Brazil. I had to come up with a brand new research project that could be conducted in a few months in a country I knew little about. But then again, Brazil came at the perfect time, because I now feel more ready than ever to write a dissertation about the science of the placenta. I’d thought my study of the science of the placenta was done when I finished my fieldwork. But now I realize it had only begun and will go on, even after the dissertation is gathering dust.  That is the nature of all knowledge: always a production, in production. There will always be more to find out – about the placenta, and anything else worth studying.

I had the opportunity to accomplish a lot in Brazil. Along with my collaborators, we undertook a large-sample questionnaire study in a very busy maternity ward. We weathered many challenges, and succesfully navigated the waters of Brazilian bureaucracy at the government, bank, and university. I delivered 6 lectures at UNICAMP, the Universidade Federal de Alfenas, the Universidade Federal de Goiás, and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Goiás. I gave a lecture to a high school class about the culture and geography of Canada. I spent time tutoring English and editing manuscripts and posters. I attended a Portuguese class and did a talk about Canada entirely in (terrible, but working) Portuguese.

I took the chance to do some travelling to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. I went white water rafting with new friends. I even enrolled in a capoeria class (but let’s just say that I didn’t exactly become the skilled capoeirista I’d envisioned). I so much enjoyed tasting the many wonderful fruits available in Brazil that I had never even heard of before. I had the chance to pick the most beautiful and gigantic avocados straight from the tree. I danced a bit of samba.

Principally and with as much earnestness as can possibly be mustered, I want to relay what a privilege it has been to have been guided and supported by Dr. Maria José Duarte Osis, Dr. José Guilherme Cecatti, Dr. Aureo T. Yamada, Dr. B. Anne Croy, Dr. Myra J. Hird, and everyone at the Centro de Pesquisas em Saúde Reprodutiva de Campinas (CEMICAMP) and the Centro de Antenção Integral à Saúde da Mulher (CAISM). What a pleasure it has been to collaborate with Simony Lira do Nascimento, Suelene Coelho, and Ana Carolina Godoy on the project. I am lucky to be able to consider these people my colleagues and friends. I hope our work together continues into the future.

Tchau, Brasil. Até mais.

*Many thanks to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), Brazil, for funding the project.

Always a researcher… even in the middle of a lecture

I spent the last two days in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil, presenting three lectures at the Universidade Federal de Goiás and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Goiás. It was a wonderful and productive trip organized by Profa. Simone Maria T. de Saboia Morais, a UFG and UNICAMP researcher who generously invited me to talk about my sociological research on the placenta with her colleagues and students. They formed a genuinely animated audience. During one of the lectures while I was talking about various cultural perspectives of the placenta, an audience member informed me that there is a joke in some parts of Brazil that might have an impact on the perception of the placenta. As I understand it, if a child is misbehaving they will say it’s because the mother accidentally took the placenta home, instead of the baby, and raised it. It is as if the placenta is the “evil twin,” or merely just a “bad egg.”

I have been living in Brazil for nearly 5 months studying perspectives on the placenta and have yet to hear of this joke. Needless to say I was excited and intrigued by the bit of information and took the opportunity, perhaps as a true ethnographer should, to make a detailed note of the observation… in the middle of my lecture. Everyone laughed and it was a really wonderful moment of sharing knowledge and research.

Thank you for the opportunity, Dr. Simone!

Update: Here is a little news item about my lecture at PUC (in Portuguese).
Isso é uma notícia sobre a palestra no PUC.

Sobre Minhas Pesquisas

(A short description of my research interests in Portuguese)

Como socióloga eu estudo ciência e, especificamente, estudo ciência da placenta. Pode ser surpreendente descobrir que, do ponto de vista da ciência, a placenta tem várias utilidades. É claro que a placenta é estudada extensivamente em biologia reprodutiva, por que é fundamental para a gravidez e pode ser determinante para os resultados da gravidez. Mas também é necessário estudar a placenta a partir do referencial de outros campos além da biologia reprodutiva, porque se trata de um tecido grande, amplamente disponível, muitas vezes considerado “lixo,” e que tem diversas propriedades interessantes. Tem uma grande variedade de aplicações científicas em muitos campos como imunologia, pesquisa do câncer, toxicologia e engenharia de tecidos. Por isso, placentas são regularmente coletadas em hospitais de todo o mundo e utilizadas em experiências científicas. Todas as minhas pesquisas se concentram nas práticas de doação, coleta e utilização da placenta para fins científicos.