The fetus as a patient: an essential ethical concept for maternal-fetal medicine

J Matern Fetal Med. 1996 May-Jun;5(3):115-9. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6661(199605/06)5:3<115::AID-MFM3>3.0.CO;2-P.


The objective of this paper is to provide an ethical analysis of the concept of the fetus as a patient and to identify the clinical implications of this concept for maternal-fetal medicine. The principles of beneficence and respect for autonomy are applied to the viable and previable fetus. We argue that the viable fetus is a fetal patient. The previable fetus is a fetal patient only when the pregnant woman confers such status on it. When the fetus is a patient, directive counseling for fetal benefit is ethically justified. When the fetus is not a patient, counseling should be non-directive.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence*
  • Counseling
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Fetus*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal-Fetal Relations
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Obstetrics / standards*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Professional-Patient Relations