Understanding feticide: an analytic review

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jan;66(2):289-300. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.08.014. Epub 2007 Oct 24.


The medical procedure of 'feticide' has been used in clinical practice since the early 1990s in the UK. The procedure constitutes a sensitive aspect of late termination of pregnancy (TOP), an issue that is in itself contentious. The procedure has attracted attention from academic and policy commentators, but recently the medical profession has expressed some uncertainty with respect to the legal position of live birth following TOP, and professional discretion in providing feticide. To understand the meaning of these comments better, we argue that it is helpful to acknowledge the rhetoric that shapes the academic discourse on feticide. In this paper, we review how feticide has been conceptualised within academic discourse, demonstrating that the concept has multiple meanings, some of which could be considered politically charged. We then consider some examples of the comments made about the legal uncertainties of feticide, highlighting assumptions made about the problematic nature of professional discretion. Ultimately, we suggest that a better understanding of the context of feticide is needed to ensure that future research in this area of health care engages adequately with issues of professional discretion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Eugenic / methods
  • Abortion, Eugenic / psychology*
  • Abortion, Legal / methods
  • Abortion, Legal / psychology*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Semantics