HONOLULU (AP) _ Gov. Linda Lingle signed a bill Friday allowing hospitals to release the placenta, the organ that connects mother and child in the womb, to a birth mother.

The legislation came after several Hawaiian couples found they would not be allowed to take the placenta _ known as iewe in Hawaiian _ from the hospital to perform a traditional ceremony.

In Hawaiian belief, the iewe is considered a part of the child. Ceremonies in the islands include burying the iewe under a tree, so that the growth of the tree can be used to better understand psychological and spiritual changes in the child.

But state rules regulating blood-bearing products prohibited families from taking the placenta from the hospital, the state Department of Health said.

The conflict resulted in a federal lawsuit that was later dismissed.

Under the new law, the placenta could be released to the mother, or someone else she has chosen, after a test of the mother confirms that the placenta doesn't carry an infectious disease.

The law is a first in the United States.

There are currently no state laws addressing the cultural need to take placentas from hospitals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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On the Nets:

Hawaii Legislature, HB2057, Act 12: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/