Conflicting perceptions of the fetus: person, patient, 'nobody', commodity?

New Genet Soc. 2001;20(3):225-38. doi: 10.1080/14636770120092994.


Different constructions of the fetus lie at the centre of reproductive, abortion and disability politics. Recent developments mean that, within the same hospital, a fetus may be perceived in contrasting and potentially conflicting ways. It is also argued that the status given to the fetus is directly relevant to the status given to pregnant women. During group discussions facilitated by an ethicist, health-care staff highlighted various perceptions of the fetus which included: person; patient; 'nobody'; commodity. Perhaps not surprisingly in view of the current legal situation, staff tended to claim that it is usually the pregnant women who decides how her fetus will be constructed, and the practitioner who responds to this. However, various ways in which practitioners might influence women's perceptions of their fetus are highlighted, as are some ways in which the perceptions of staff might be influenced. This paper illustrates how sensitive health-care staff will need to be if they are indeed to respond to, rather than shape, women's constructions of their fetus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Commodification
  • England
  • Fetus*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Relations
  • Personhood
  • Pregnant Women / psychology
  • Prenatal Care*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / psychology
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Tissue Donors