Maternal-fetal conflict

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2000 Mar;89(1):101-7. doi: 10.1016/s0301-2115(99)00166-9.


Advances in prenatal care have brought about a greater understanding as to the special status of the fetus to the point that it is considered a patient in its own regard. Pregnant women generally follow the medical recommendations of their physicians that are intended for the benefit of their baby. Any situation where maternal well-being or wishes contradict fetal benefit constitutes a maternal-fetal conflict. Such situations include a broad range of possible interventions, non-interventions, and coercive influences. In such cases, the attending physician is expected to attain an attitude that involves either the respect of the woman's autonomy and right to privacy, which precludes any approach other than to accept her decision, or to modify this absolute for the beneficence of the fetus. Current ethical viewpoints range from absolute respect for maternal autonomy with no persuasion allowed, to gentle persuasion and to others which permit intervention and overriding of the woman's autonomy. Court-ordered decisions enforcing the pregnant woman to undergo a procedure in order to improve fetal outcome have been criticized as an invasion of a woman's privacy, limitation of her autonomy, and taking away of her right to informed consent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Medical
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Physician's Role
  • Pregnancy