Fetal subjects and maternal objects: Reproductive technology and the new fetal/maternal relation

Susan Squier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This essay examines three tendencies nurtured in the practices of reproductive technology - tendencies with profoundly disturbing implications for us as individuals and as social beings. They are: 1) the increasing subjectification of the fetus (that is, the increasing tendency to posit a fetal subject), 2) the increasing objectification of the gestating woman, leading to her representation as interchangeable object rather than unique subject, and 3) the increasing tendency to conceive of the fetus and the mother as social, medical, and legal antagonists. Considering the construction of fetus, mother, and the fetal/maternal relation in earlier (Western) historical periods, a contemporary work of literature, a government report, and the popular press, I argue that as the fetus is increasingly being understood as a subject, the mother is increasingly being reduced to an antagonist, an obstacle to fetal health, and an object. The essay concludes by offering some tentative conclusions about the general process of fetal subjectification in the United States and Europe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-535
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy


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