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We recently received an interesting call to the Law Office of Lisa Vance, P.C., regarding a placenta. The call specifically asked about whether the parents could keep the placenta, post-birth, to determine whether or not the mother of a newborn was using drugs. I was intrigued, so to the books I went and discovered that Texas does in fact have laws on this subject.

The placenta is generally considered to be medical waste, and if a patient doesn’t articulate that she wants to keep the placenta, it’s disposed of in accordance with hospital policy. However, some women do want to keep the placenta after birth – there are sometimes cultural reasons for this, and some even tout health benefits for mothers who eat the placenta. (There’s at least one Austin-based business that a new mother can hire to place her placenta into capsules, making ingestion easier.)

So, in 2015, the Texas State Legislature actually passed a law allowing for a mother to keep her placenta following birth. The law (Chapter 172 in Title 2 and Subtitle H of the state’s Health and Safety Code) spells out specifics for that process. The hospital still does retain the right to keep a portion of the placenta for any testing, if necessary , but provided that a mother fills out a Content to Release Placenta form requesting the placenta, and then tests negative for certain infectious diseases, she’s free to take it with her upon discharging from the health care facility.

That said, having a statute on the books doesn’t necessarily mean it will be followed. If a woman wanting to keep her placenta has an emergency delivery involving EMS techs, for example, and the EMS techs dispose of the placenta, there’s no realistic recourse for getting it back even though she had a legal right to retain it.

That speaks to the importance of making one’s wishes known at the outset of having any medical care. When a woman checks into a hospital to give birth, and wants to keep her placenta, she should have the form ready as part of her admission packet, and she should also have it on file with her OB-GYN doctor.

In that, it’s like other forms that I deal with far more commonly – like medical power of attorney documents – in that the people who are responsible for exercising your wishes need to know what your wishes are. It’s important to have those articulated in legal documents, but unless a medical staff is aware of those documents, they will operate via standard hospital procedures rather than any exceptions to that you might have specified.