Roundtable: Beyond the Medical Management of Pregnancy Loss
Sheelagh McGuinness (University of Bristol)
Aimee Middlemiss (University of Exeter)
Dr Sheelagh McGuinness
'Respect, Ritual, Recognition: Beyond the Sensitive Disposal of Pregnancy Remains'
Decades of historical, anthropological, and legal research have demonstrated that the ontological status of the foetus is not only extremely complex, it is also charged with a powerful potential that impacts the way society deals with it. The social life of the living foetus is well documented, unlike the social life of the dead foetus. While a live foetus often carries with it an imagined future, a foetus that is no longer alive invokes a much more complicated landscape of emotions, understandings of fairness and naturalness, and symbolic values associated with reproduction and human life. I explore the strange space that the foetus occupies in the social imaginary and the tensions existing between its legal status and social practices around dead foetuses. By looking at the limits of what the law is able to frame, it is possible to bring forth the ambivalence inhering in foetal status and the attempts at harnessing it into certainty through formal practices, such as funeral arrangements.
'Beyond Obstetric Violence: The Medical Care of Women Experiencing Second Trimester Pregnancy Loss as Ontological Boundary Work'
The recent development of the concept of obstetric violence offers a way of connecting the structural devaluing of women’s reproductive work with the individual acts of medical caregivers (Sadler et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2018). In the English healthcare system, the experiences of women going through second trimester pregnancy loss due to foetal death, premature labour, or termination for foetal anomaly exhibit many of the characteristics of obstetric violence. However, the concept rests on a causal link between the devaluation of women and their activities in wider society and what then happens to them in obstetric care. This is an insufficiently complex explanation in the case of second trimester loss, because it misses the dynamics between medical, legal, and lay ontologies of pregnancy and the foetus. In this talk, I argue that bringing obstetric violence alongside teleological biomedical concepts of the foetus (Franklin, 1991, 2014) and of reproduction (Thompson, 2005) in the context of ontological politics (Mol, 1999) can give greater insight into the causation of violence in obstetric settings. In second trimester pregnancy loss, medical care crosses into obstetric violence when it is also performing ontological boundary work about the nature of the foetal being and pregnancy itself.
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