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J Matern Fetal Med. 1996 May-Jun;5(3):115-9.

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

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Department of Obstetrics, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New York 10025, USA.


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.

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