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University of Toronto Scarborough
Health Studies
Denis Maxwell

HLTC02 WINTER 2013 Week # 9: “Precious Cargo”: Fetal subjects, Risk and Reproductive citizenship Abstract  Pregnant women are being subjected to an intense ascetic regime of self- regulation and discipline of their bodies because they are now incubators of persons (Fetuses) whose rights are seemingly privileged over that of the mothers themselves  This review article focuses on concepts of pregnancy, foetal personhood and risk  Pregnant women’s bodies are now “public” and subject to scrutiny with respect to the regulation, monitoring and control that “NEEDS” to be done in order to have safe delivery, fetus is fetishized as a precious body to the exclusion of pregnant woman’s needs and rights.  Pregnancy has moved from being a safe natural process to that which is medicalized, patholgized, and risk filled  Biomedical technology as well as neoliberal economic hegemony plays a part in this new social construction and parameter/paradigm Introduction  When you are pregnant, there are more pressures to maintain a “healthy” lifestyle (avoid alcohol, and tobacco, caffeine, fish with mercury, soft cheeses, drastic diets, BPA plastics, radiation for X-rays, vitamin A, lying on their back in late pregnancy, sleep enough, water, protein, folic acid, vitamin B, omega B doing research, prenatal screening and testing, pregnancy books, exercise enough, mental health problems, infectious germs, rest at work,) which can be daunting and privileges the fetus over the autonomy and agency of the pregnant woman  Pregnant women are singled out as bearing full responsibility for the health, wellbeing and development of their unborn children  Pregnant women should engage in reproductive asceticism (stringently monitor and control their body for the sake of their fetuses and they should do this out of motherly love)  Western moralism coupled with neoliberal economics hegemony suggests that we are all entitled to choose the life we want but that comes with individual responsibility  This individual responsibility manifests itself in one way with the increasing focus on the maternal pregnant body as a site for regulation, monitoring and control The At-Risk Foetus  Beck’s concept of “the risk society” - contemporary societies is becoming increasingly preoccupied with risk to the extent that risk consciousness is a major aspect of everyday life.  Individualization – traditional mores and social structures which once shaped people’s decisions and behaviors have broken down and assumes HLTC02 WINTER 2013 agency in the sense that a person’s life is dependent on individual decision making and the ability to shape one’s destiny through choice rather than social expectations is frequently asserted  Socioeconomic disadvantages which limit people’s opportunities are no longer acknowledge in the emphasis on autonomy and self-determination  Pregnancy no longer a natural state rather a pathological state that require constant input by experts and medical monitoring  Emotionally charged relationship of the parent-child has led to a high degree of responsibility that parents feel for ensuring their children’s health, safety and well-being  Biomedical technologies are used to mitigate risky pregnancies – more emphasis and attention paid to the fetal body rather than the pregnant body  Development delays are blamed on mother’s action or inaction – they may be killing or abusing their child through their participation in risky behaviors  Maternal and fetal bodies are shown in opposition to each other – whose rights prevail in matters of conflict of needs/wants?  There has even been governmental /legal actions being pushed for on behalf of fetus in opposition to the mother’s wishes, legal action against mothers caught partaking in substances  “Continual slippage between the concept of the fetus and that of baby, fetuses are rendered independent parentless minors  Pregnant body on public display – must act in accordance with the expectations of decency pushed on to them because of their biological state  There are differing views on this constant scrutiny and surveillance and control of pregnant bodies – women are aware of all this attention and expectations o Middle class women welcome it as a way in which to assert their autonomy and agency in a overwhelming patriarchal society, they have control over SOMETHING at least o Low class women – increasingly showed YET ANOTHER aspect of their life they DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER The ambiguities of the fetal/maternal body  Fetal bodies provide even more uncertainty about personhood and individuated embodiment given they are encased within a maternal body that must still undergo many physical changes through their development  Maternal body seen as dangerously permeable whereas fetus is seen as trapped or imprisoned  Female body is more policed but is seen as less controllable vs. those of men  Female bodies are symbolically chaotic, subject to hormonal and emotional fluctu
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