Fetal Personhood

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An Exploration of Maternally Assigned Fetal Personhood:
Experiences of Obstetric Ultrasound

Keywords: Fetal Personhood, Obstetric Ultrasound, Normative Significance of Birth

1. Australian law states that the fetus is not considered a ‘human being’ until it is completely separated from the woman’s body (Anolak 2014: 61). This idea promotes birth as the beginning of personhood (Mills 2014). In line with this, stillborn and miscarried fetuses over the age of 20 weeks must be legally recognised by funerary rites (Anolak 2014: 61). In 2009 this law was challenged: a woman who was 32 weeks pregnant was involved in a car accident which eventuated in the death of her fetus (Donegan 2013). Although her fetus ‘Zoe’ was recognised as being a person,
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The existing research relies on objective knowledge generated by legal and scientific means. The aim of this research is to broaden understandings of personhood beyond objective measures, to the subjective attributions of pregnant women. This would… [need a stronger link – 1 – 3 sentences here about why the maternal perspective is the important one!] The significance of coming to understand maternal assignment of fetal personhood is, therefore, critical to the further development of social, legal, and medical understandings of maternal and fetal rights. And necessary to protect the rights of women, and their … of their bodies. The current literature is located primarily within bioethics, law, and … from which there are several key areas of discussion, each with different positions on fetal personhood, how it is defined, and by whom it is attributed. Yet the focus remains on when medical professionals, policy forming bodies, and the law should consider the fetus a person, and in which circumstances the actions of the pregnant woman and ‘others’ can be considered a threat to the fetus and punishable by law. What remains unclear is when pregnant women assign personhood to their fetus. This research proposes to investigate understandings of how personhood arise through the experiences of the medical gaze of obstetric ultrasound. Where obstetric ultrasound is understood to position the fetus as a subject in isolation from the pregnant female body, and as such begins the…show more content…
Mills identifies that obstetric ultrasound is the address which can be seen as directly calling the fetus into being as a person (2014:96-97, 102). She argues that through experiences of ultrasound the fetus is framed in such a way as to bring felicity into question in assigning or withholding of personhood depending on whether the pregnancy is maternally ‘wanted’ and whether it is medically ‘viable’ (2014:96-97). To this end, Mills queries whether assignment of fetal personhood in utero obfuscates the normative significance of birth (2014:99, 102). Mills discussion focuses on the ways in which the fetal personhood debate has been centered around abortion and fetal homicide, and how the role of obstetric ultrasound as a routine part of pregnancy has effectively undermined the normative significance of birth (2014:99-100, 102). Similarly, Roberts argues that the erasure of the body of the gestating woman within fetal ultrasound imagery begins the process of removing the woman from the fetus, and hence, constructing the fetus as an individual (2013:4). This understanding of subjects as separate(d) through the visual technology of obstetric ultrasound is symbolic of a detachment and distancing of the gestating woman from the fetus (2013:7). That is, that ultrasound offers a way of viewing the fetus in isolation from the pregnant body, and as such, makes the fetus the primary obstetric

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