The ethics of vanity

Here’s an excerpt from a presentation (from 2001, I believe) entitled “Rejuvenation of Aging and Photodamaged Skin Utilizing Fibroblast Conditioned Media”:

A newborn baby’s skin produces an abundance of compounds important to healthy young skin, including growth factors antioxidants, soluble collagens, and matrix proteins that confer structure to skin. Over time, environmental stressors like ultra-violet radiation, cigarette smoke, wind and pollution deplete these compounds. Meanwhile, as we age, our bodies gradually lose the ability to effectively produce these elements. So our skin wrinkles, sags and roughens.

This natural mixture of newborn skin compounds is produced by Advanced Tissue Sciences, Inc. to from a pioneering process in the emerging field of tissue engineering that utilizes fibroblast cells from neonatal foreskins to produce human tissue replacements for the treatment of serious burns, wounds and other therapeutic indications. Fibroblasts are the cells responsible for growth and repair of the dermal layer of skin. The patented tissue engineering process stimulates normal human newborn skin fibroblast cells grown in the laboratory to deposit matrix proteins, including collagens, growth factors and antioxidants to form a human dermal tissue structure. In addition to assembly of these components into a tissue, the cells secrete soluble forms of these compounds into the solution (termed media) used to nourish the cells. The resultant fibroblast conditioned media is separated from the cells and tissue to serve as a natural, highly efficacious, ingredient for anti-aging cosmeceuticals. The fibroblast conditioned media contains the array of naturally produced factors which aging skin makes less efficiently and sometimes in smaller quantities.

Advanced Tissue Sciences, Inc. sold its assets in 2003 to SkinMedica in bankruptcy. SkinMedica now has an array of products that include human fibroblast conditioned media. Its site does not indicate specifically that this means “developed from neonatal foreskins,” so I am not making that claim with regard to its products. However, Dr. Patricia Wexler said as much when she appeared on Oprah.

Does anyone else see the ethical quandary this presents? The boy has not consented to unnecessary surgery, yet a healthy portion of his body is amputated. The discarded foreskin is then used by a third party to develop a commercial beauty product¹. Somebody is making money on this, and it’s not the now foreskin-free boy.

Providing compensation to the circumcised boy would not change my opinion, or ease the violation of routine infant circumcision. That should be obvious. But it does further illustrate how little the rights of infant males are considered in the routine practice of circumcision in America. There is a disconnect when reason does not tell us that using an infant’s foreskin so that adults can pretend that time does not exist is not acceptable.

Note: It makes no difference if the human fibroblast conditioned media is used to treat burn victims instead of those too vain to age. The boy does not lose his right to bodily integrity because someone else suffered burns. Individual rights can’t be trumped by any notion of who “needs” the skin more.

¹ Two human collagen products, CosmoDerm® and CosmoPlast®, contain cells replicated from discarded foreskins.

One thought on “The ethics of vanity”

  1. Companies that market products containing foreskin-derived ingredients need to be boycotted. Period.

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