Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Little is known about the use of biosocial concepts in complicated pregnancies where parents are offered fetal interventions. Advances in surgical and support technologies allow for fetal treatment over days, weeks, or even months depending on underlying conditions.
This paper examines rare events in the routine practice of fetal surgery and fetal interventions through two years of participant-observation and thirty interviews at the Fetal Concerns Center in a large Midwestern academic medical center. This includes surgery for twin-twin transfusion, limitation of care for Trisomy 13 and 18, and three forms of continuous heart-lung bypass used to prolong life in the setting of extreme illness (such as heart, lung, or organ failure). In doing so I join two different methodological bundles –biological information and ethnographic insights – into bioethnographic research in order to bridge gaps in our understanding of potentiality (Taussig, Hoeyer, Helmreich 2013). I examine the frequency and extent of fetal interventions as related to gestational parent’s experience and health at discharge. By examining these events I understand how providers and families each manage “episodic” (Strawson 2004, Atkinson 1995) events in relationship to mortality and the uncertainty (Hacking 1990, Rabinow 2008, Berlant 2011) inherent in fetal intervention. This includes analysis of changes to the legal status of the fetus in the region and how clinicians respond by reinforcing particular treatment pathways.