Circumcision in America: Are baby boys’ foreskins for sale?
One dad went to find out …..
By Anthony Losquadro
I’m 55 years old and a father of two. When I’m not wiping raspberry jam off their cheeks, settling sibling disputes, or fixing the chain on their bikes, I work in real estate management. After my wife and I put the kids to bed, I’d be off to the gym most nights, at least before the pandemic. These days it’s more like watching the next episode of Tiger King in bed. Sunday is our family time. That’s my everyday life. Just your typical New Yorker feeling blessed and harassed by the demands of small children, the excitement of watching them grow up, and my wife’s sparkling blue eyes.
I’m impassioned about educating people about the pain and trauma of circumcision contrasted against the overwhelming benefits of having an intact body. America is the only country in the world that cuts off normal, natural, important, healthy body parts of baby boys for cultural reasons. I’m on a mission to end non-medical circumcision, which is why I founded a non-profit called Intaction (http://intaction.org) ten years ago.
When I heard rumors that cell lines grown from infant foreskins are being used in cosmetics and bio-tech products, I was concerned (or shocked? or angry?). As a parent I would do anything to protect my children. For my wife and I there was no question that our son would be kept intact. But if baby’s foreskins are being sold to corporations, don’t those parents have a right to know?
In 2013, Oprah Winfrey was criticized for endorsing a skin care company, SkinMedica, that uses cells grown from foreskin tissue in their products. These cells are called neonatal fibroblasts, which are “harvested” (this is the word the industry uses) from infant boys.
In 2015, Boston Magazine reported that baby foreskins are being used for anti-wrinkle facial treatments. Clinics and high-end spas use extracts and growth factors from these “harvests.” Infant foreskin cells reportedly have the ability to help adult skin to regenerate. https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2015/04/14/baby-foreskin-facial-boston-hydrafacial/
In March of last year, actresses Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett made headlines for saying publicly that their youthful appearance, glowing and wrinkle-free skin was thanks to the “Penis Facial.”
A journalist from People Magazine decided to indulge herself with the “penis facial” for $650 and reported on the outcome (“it didn’t turn me into a celebrity but it came close”) with glee. (Source: https://people.com/style/we-tried-it-cate-blanchett-sandra-bullock-penis-facial/)
In a three year investigation into how for-profit medicine and corporate greed influence the way we parent, Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. confirms that the rumors are true. “…the foreskin is tremendously valuable,” Margulis writes in her book, Your Baby, Your Way (Scribner 2015). “Infant foreskins are used to make high-end beauty products like injectable wrinkle treatments; artificial skin for burn victims, diabetics, and plastic surgery; wound dressings; hair regrowth products; and spa products.”
All of this begs the question: Where are all of these infant foreskins sourced from? And do doctors or hospitals put pressure on families to circumcise in order to sell foreskins to for-profit companies that use them for cosmetic skin care or skin graft products?
Companies that use infant foreskins claim they can grow many cells from just one foreskin and that a cell line will last almost indefinitely, said SkinMedica founder Dr. Richard Fitzpatrick in the San Diego CityBeat. They try to cast themselves as being “cruelty free” because according to Fitzpatrick in another interview, “circumcision is such a common surgery and it would be a waste not to use them”
I have been skeptical of these claims. I’m not a journalist or a scientist. I’m a CEO, a dad, and a fitness fanatic. But for the past six years, I’ve been trying to find out how companies are purchasing and using American babies’ foreskins.
Why do humans have foreskins?
Before I tell you what I’ve uncovered, we should take the time to understand why humans have foreskin.
First realize that both males and females have foreskin. Women have it in the form of the clitoral hood.
In men, the foreskin is the highly sensitive protective skin covering on the end of the penis. It’s a functionally important structure of the penis, providing four main benefits:
- Pleasure: The foreskin contains over 20,000 specialized nerve endings that provide sensation and control.
- Protection: The foreskin keeps the end of the penis covered, moist, and supple.
- Lubrication: The foreskin produces natural lubricants and emollients.
- Connection: Foreskin is a key part in how nature designed humans to physically bond — intact body to intact body.
Circumcision in America
Throughout Europe and in most of the rest of the developed world, men enjoy all the benefits of having intact penises. In fact circumcised men represent a relatively small minority around the world.
In the United Kingdom, fewer than 5 percent of adult men are circumcised. This has been the case since the end of World War II when the U.K. nationalized their health care system. Take the profit motive away from circumcision and doctors immediately realize it’s unnecessary.
In the United States, circumcision rates have been slowly declining. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 55% of American men are circumcised. However that data is almost 10 years old at this point, and indicators point to a declining trend in newborn circumcisions. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/circumcision_2013/circumcision_2013.htm.
In our “fee for service” medical system, doctors and hospitals get paid extra to perform circumcisions. It is for this reason — not for health benefits — that medical associations vigorously lobby to defend insurance reimbursements. If insurance stopped paying for this, newborn circumcision would end tomorrow.
American medical associations with clear profit motives hype poorly designed “scientific” studies that purportedly “prove” that circumcision has medical benefits. Consider this: the countries where children are the healthiest and happiest (places that consistently score in the top five slots for infant health and well being invariably include Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Japan, and Spain) are all countries where circumcision is basically unheard of.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, a trade association peopled by doctors who themselves have been circumcised (or are married to circumcised men) endorses circumcision, citing “studies” that show that circumcised boys are less prone to urinary tract infections and penile cancer. Yet over 20 medical associations in other countries recommend against circumcision, stating, “Circumcision fails to meet the commonly accepted criteria for the justification of preventive medical procedures in children … circumcision of underage boys … has no compelling health benefits” they said. https://intaction.org/circumcision-health-benefits/
What are those risks?
A 2016 study in Denmark by the prestigious Statens Serum Institute found circumcised babies had a 26% rate of damage to the urethra. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28017691
A 2018 study published in the Societies of Pediatric Urology found a 11.5% rate of severe complications from circumcision. https://spuonline.org/abstracts/2018/P21.cgi
Long term psychological harm can be caused by circumcision pain and trauma, including PTSD. https://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/for-professionals/psychological-impact/
Hospitals have a financial incentive to encourage circumcision
Doctors get paid an extra fee every time they circumcise an infant.
When the circumcision is botched and a child has to be taken to a pediatric urologist, more money is paid to the medical establishment.
Every insurance company has a different reimbursement scheme, but American hospitals charge for using their facility, the equipment like infant tie-down “circumstraints”, foreskin crushing clamps, supplies, the extra nursing staff, and changing bloody diapers. So the more often circumcisions that are performed the more money the hospital can bill out. These insurance billings can be as much as $2000 per infant.
The financial incentive for hospitals is so strong that parents have reported seeing an extra line item charge for circumcision “mistakenly” added to the hospital bill after giving birth to a GIRL !
So perhaps it should have come as no surprise to me that a feeding frenzy exists around exploiting foreskin. Medical entrepreneurs have struck gold from a myriad of for-profit uses for newborn foreskin. It contains valuable stem cells and fibroblasts, which they use to create and sell products.
One company, American Type Culture Collection (ATCC Inc.), headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, calls itself “The premier global biological materials resource organization whose mission focuses on the acquisition and distribution of tissue samples. We maintain a global network of authorized distributors and partners to reach the scientific community in more than 150 countries.”
From their 126,000 square foot facility with over 200 freezers, they process and sell 1 milliliter of frozen neonatal fibroblasts for $440 each.
Baby foreskin is available in various ethnicities that is “batch specific” according to ATCC. Source: https://www.atcc.org/products/all/PCS-201-010.aspx#generalinformation
- How many foreskins are bought and sold?
- From where are they sourced?
- How many foreskins do cosmetic companies buy?
- Are parents aware that their children’s penises are being used in this way?
- Cosmetic companies attempt to deflect criticism by claiming they use just one foreskin, and with that they can grow enough cells to cover the size of a football field. But how often must they replenish their cultures?
As I said earlier, I’m a CEO, a dad, and an activist. Not an investigative journalist. Which makes me wonder. Why aren’t real journalists actively investigating this?
I kept uncovering clues which pointed to more information that needed to be uncovered. The public, especially a parent trying to make ethical decisions as to the best and healthiest decision for their sons, has a right to know.
Freedom of Information and Organogenesis.
I began researching government records to find out what I could uncover about infant foreskin tissue donation. (Actually the babies aren’t donating, it’s literally being ripped from their bodies against their will, but government agencies still consider it a donation.) My business experience came in handy when dealing with corporate records and overcoming legal issues.
I used the power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA/FOIL) to make legal demands of government records from state agencies.
Medical companies must submit paperwork in order to register their businesses, and this information becomes part of the public record.
I was able to obtain internal documents from one company, Organogenesis, that showed actual written contracts between Organogenesis and hospitals in both Massachusetts and Iowa.
The documents describe the business arrangement and collection procedures for the ongoing procurement of infant foreskin from these hospitals.
Organogenesis, headquartered in Canton, Massachusetts, produces products known as Apligraf and Dermagraft, which are used in skin repair and grafts.
I looked into this company, which claims to have sold over 1 million units of Apligraf and Dermagraft products.
In New York State, Organogenesis is licensed to sell their products in 300 medical facilities across the state.
According to the Boston Globe, the company is valued at $673 million, and recently became a public stock company.
I poured through hundreds of pages of documents, which took me several months to read.
I identified three hospitals procuring foreskins on behalf of Organogenesis.
1) Tufts Medical Center
2) Boston University Medical Center
3) The Iowa Clinic.
THE SMOKING GUN — THE PROOF I WAS SEEKING
I obtained a contract between Organogenesis and Tufts Medical Center for the sale of infant foreskin tissue.
I discovered a section in the contract entitled “Compensation” which contained references to a “Physician’s Payment Schedule,” “Tissue Sample Fee,” and “Institution’s Payment Schedule.”
But the schedule that outlined the amount of money to be paid by Organogenesis to Dr. Davis and Tufts, per foreskin, was mysteriously missing from documents.
Included in the contract is Paragraph 8, a confidentiality clause, in which Organogenesis demands the hospitals keep information about the program secret and on a “need to know” basis.
On the parental consent instructions of the Organogenesis guidelines, parents are NOT told that their son’s foreskin may be used for the benefit of a for-profit business.
The program guidelines include how to introduce the program and solicit consent from expecting parents at 10 weeks pregnancy during prenatal ultrasound, which is when a family can first find out the baby’s gender.
Based on another FOIA demand from the Massachusetts Department of Health, I obtained data that showed Boston Medical Center and Tufts perform circumcisions on more than half the baby boys born there each year, combined nearly a thousand circumcisions per year. Many of those are babies of low income families covered under MassHealth, or medicaid.
More Proof Organogenesis Pays Doctors and Hospitals Millions of Dollars.
I conducted further research into Organogenesis and their business practices. Through my research into government databases like OpenPaymentsData.gov, I found the company pays doctors and hospitals millions of dollars a year for their profitable and cozy business relationship. For one year I looked into, Organogenesis paid doctors over $1.3 million dollars. The payments include money for meals and lodging. In other words — free vacations. When would a company pay for your free vacation? If you can keep the pipeline open for baby foreskins, I’m sure they would pay you too.
What do the hospitals have to say about selling infant foreskins?
I contacted Dr. Jonathan Davis from The Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center for further information.
Dr. Davis is the Chief of Newborn Medicine at Tufts and in charge of the foreskin donation program.
His signature also appears on the contract between Organogenesis and Tufts.
Dr. Davis refused to comment and referred the inquiry to hospital spokesperson Jeremy Lechan, who then also declined to comment.
I followed up with Lechan. I communicated to him via email I had documents showing a business relationship between Tufts and Organogenesis.
Lechan responded two days later via email acknowledging Tuft’s participation in Organogenesis’ Tissue Donation Program (TDP). He insisted the program is “managed by strict IRB, ethics committee, and HIPAA regulations.”
He advised that further questions must be directed to Organogenesis due to “strict confidentiality rules” and declined further comment.
I contacted Organogenesis about this article. I was transferred to a person named Nichole who then never returned my calls.
Why the Secrecy? What about Ethics?
I question the ethics of taking the anatomically important foreskin from a healthy baby without his consent, in an extremely painful procedure, for a profit-making purpose, and without adequately informing the parents. Many of these parents are using Medicaid insurance and come from low-income disadvantaged communities.
These hospitals have a financial incentive to perform circumcisions and then another financial incentive to sell the foreskins to a for-profit company. The hospitals are then in the role of providing care to infants and dispensing medical advice to parents. This is a deeply troubling conflict of interest to me.
While some might argue that obtaining foreskins is no different than collecting cord blood, they are mistaken. The removal of the foreskin is a painful and involved procedure with a host of potential side effects. Even more importantly, the foreskin serves an important function in male sexuality.
In comparison, the umbilical cord must be removed and discarded as it serves no further purpose.
The hospitals that participate in the Organogenesis program are conducting thousands of infant circumcisions.
Are these doctors encouraging the cutting of baby boys, or manipulating parents from disadvantaged communities, where otherwise they may have elected not to circumcise their son?
While the written guidelines suggest the hospital is supposed to avoid ethical lapses, how truthfully are these policies being followed?
What training programs are in place to instruct staff in requesting parental cooperation, and do verbal staff-parent explanations match the written consent forms?
Especially when money is involved?
Organogenesis is one company of many that have commercialized infant foreskin.
How many more “donation” programs by other companies are there out there, hidden by confidential arrangements?
Lastly, if all of this activity is above board and conducted under the highest ethical standards, as they claim, why the secrecy?
Like most parents, my instincts are to protect my children. We should never allow the chance that a child may be exploited. Biotech companies should not have the right to obtain a pound of our children’s flesh (literally) without our knowledge or consent.
Were our children put on this earth to give some celebrity a few months of wrinkle-free beauty?
It is our job, as parents, to keep our children safe from exploitation.
While I can fix a broken chain on a bicycle, I could never repair the harm caused from needlessly inflicting pain and trauma to a child. Nor could my wife and I ever reconcile ourselves to allow the trampling of our son’s right to the benefits of an intact body. When it comes to our kids bodies, if it ain’t broke, it’s best to leave well enough alone.