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Perspect Biol Med. 2006 Summer;49(3):425-34.

What's in a Name? Death before birth.

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Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The medical, legal, and lay communities utilize a range of words to describe a pregnancy that does not result in live birth. These terms, including abortion, miscarriage, and stillbirth, are more than just words: they carry with them a range of meanings and social consequences. This paper explores the complex implications embodied in the language used to designate fetal death and describes how they simultaneously, and paradoxically, establish conflicting subject positions for mother and fetus. It also examines the statutory regulations that affirm the problematic terms in a manner that may leave grieving families without ritual outlets for the expression of their loss. This paper draws on specific examples from Aotearoa New Zealand, while recognizing similarities across Western cultures.

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