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Books, Journals, New Media
July 21, 1999

Fetal SurgeryThe Making of the Unborn Patient: A Social Anatomy of Fetal Surgery

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available

JAMA. 1999;282(3):287. doi:10.1001/jama.282.3.287-JBK0721-5-1

Precipitated by advances in prenatal diagnostics as well as possibilities for intervention, the concept of the human fetus as patient is relatively new in health care. In this multisite ethnography based on her award-winning dissertation in sociology, Monica Casper describes the events that led to this conceptualization. More important, she critiques the practice of fetal surgery from a standpoint that has been largely ignored in its development, that of women's health.

The book is mainly based on interviews with more than 50 health care workers and a few patients at sites in the United States, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico, between November 1991 and December 1994. Casper also draws on her observations of clinical staff meetings, grand rounds, presentations, conferences, and operations on human fetuses. She uses a pseudonym ("Capital Hospital") for the major medical center at which she witnessed open fetal surgery, but readers familiar with the topic are likely to identify the well-known institution in the western part of the United States where Casper completed the bulk of her research. Although her "informants" include critics as well as advocates of fetal surgery, the majority are less than enthusiastic, as is she, about its practice.

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