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Clin Perinatol. 2003 Mar;30(1):17-25.

Words matter: nomenclature and communication in perinatal medicine.

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  • 1Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.


The best interests of our patients are served by using language that both supports patient autonomy and is neutral. While it remains a "tentative" pregnancy (ie, before the completion of normal prenatal tests), the term "fetus" should be used. After normal prenatal testing, only in rare situations will the pregnant woman request an abortion. In such cases, it is appropriate that the term "fetal patient" or the lay terms "child" or "baby" be used. To be a "mother," however, one must have borne a child. Our language should support the autonomous views of the pregnant woman. The language proposed is not intended to be rigidly adhered to in all situations but rather is an appropriate starting point after which one needs to be responsive to the position of the pregnant woman. It is important to individualize language to cater to the views of individual patients. It is, however, time for doctors to acknowledge that their language can influence reality, particularly because they are frequently considered experts not only in prenatal diagnosis but also in morality. Doctor's language has a powerful influence over the way patients think.

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