Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
It’s for a good health cause, but encouraging people to, uh, contribute is a challenge.
Surely you’re familiar with donation banks for blood, semen, or internal organs such as kidneys. But the Netherlands is taking the concept into new territory: now you can donate your poop.
Yes, that’s right. Starting this month, staff at the Leiden University Medical Center will be on the hunt for donors to provide them with fine, healthy stools to stock an institution that is the first of its kind in Europe: the Dutch Donor Feces Bank. The idea of medical staff seeking out and holding onto a substance that most people are extremely keen to get rid of might sound odd, but the bank’s work could indeed provide some Dutch people with much needed ... relief. Poop transplants, already pioneered by facilities in the U.S., have proven a viable treatment program to alleviate the nasty symptoms of a complaint called Clostridium difficile infection.
The infection causes around 3,000 hospital admissions in the Netherlands annually. Typically it occurs after somebody’s gut flora have been compromised by treatment with antibiotics, leaving more space for the Clostridium difficile bacteria to populate the intestine. Most sufferers recover soon enough, but for around 5 percent of patients the condition can become chronic—and excruciating. It’s in these cases that a stool transplant can be beneficial, allowing the normal gamut of organisms present in a healthy person’s intestine to repopulate the gut.
The transplant process is relatively non-intrusive. The donated matter is simply introduced into the patient’s duodenum via a colonoscopy. This is, of course, pretty gross. It’s still no doubt offers great benefits for people who are suffering.
The question remains: How is the feces bank going to encourage people to, er, contribute? Giving a donation of this sort doesn’t automatically stoke feelings of valuable sacrifice that spur donors for other health conditions. The bank is currently on the hunt for suppliers, but commenting in the facility’s opening press release, Leiden University Medical Center’s Ed Kuijper acknowledges that this specific form of donation may have something of an image problem:
“Stool donation isn’t established yet, in the way that giving blood is. I think it’s a matter of getting used to it.”